Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health ID cover-up for some exposes risks

THE same people who claim a new national health identity system will be safe from fraud will be able to get fake ID to keep their own records secret. While every Australian will soon be assigned a 16-digit health ID number, politicians and other "well-known personalities" will be able to take advantage of false identities to stop their records falling into the wrong hands.

The 16-digit health number is a "building block" towards national electronic health records, which will be eventually shared among health professionals. The federal agency responsible for the rollout yesterday conceded the safeguards would be built into the system to "mitigate against the potential risks of exposure to this information". But access to the extra level of protection offered by the false IDs, known by the federally funded National E-Health Transaction Authority as "pseudonymisation", will not be widespread. "Pseudonymisation is not intended to be a generally available option," a spokeswoman for NEHTA said.

She said there was a "need to provide special protection for vulnerable people such as "well-known personalities" and victims of domestic violence. "With the universal allocation of individual healthcare identifiers to all Australian residents, there is a need to provide some form of special protection for vulnerable individuals to mitigate against the potential risks of exposure of this information," the spokeswoman said. The numbers, called "individual healthcare identifiers", or IHIs, will store only names and dates of birth and will not contain clinical information. The numbers will "tag" medical results such as blood tests and X-rays. The process is designed to ensure the right results are about the right patient.

Someone with one of the false IDs would be given a token which they could use the same way as they would their own identifying number. Although every Australian will be issued with an IHI number, they can choose not to use it. But people who did want an IHI number with an alternative identity would have to make a special application.

Despite the concession that an extra level of protection would be given to some, the NEHTA says the system is secure. NEHTA clinical head Mukesh Haikerwal said the system would include an audit trail, which would mean any individual would know where someone had accessed their records. Dr Haikerwal, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, said: "You will never satisfy everyone in regards to privacy, but I have far more confidence in the future of e-health and the security of its records than I do in the current system. "If confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship is in any way compromised, I would have no part in it." [Haikerawal is a fine man so he is no doubt sincere. Whether he underestimates the crooks is another matter, however]

Currently, Australians can access anonymous medical care by simply not using their Medicare card. Health Minister Nicola Roxon did not comment yesterday but has previously said e-health would have strict, legislative protocols to protect patients' medical histories.


Victoria police knew about racist crimes against Indians 'two years ago'

They will never say, however, what the race of the attackers usually is. Around 2007, however, there were a few admissions that Africans were the principal source of the problem

VICTORIA'S top cop has admitted police realised two years ago there was a problem involving crime against Indians. Indians are over-represented in robbery statistics and there is a racist element to some attacks, Police Commissioner Simon Overland said. "There is no question, regardless of the motives, Indian students have to a degree been targeted in robberies and that is not okay," he told ABC radio.

"We recognised this problem a long time before it hit the public. "We have known for two years that there has been this issue and we have been working away, at a number of levels around engaging with students, trying to make them understand the risks and how they keep themselves safe." [How about arresting some of the offenders instead?]

Mr Overland said police had detailed data on attacks involving Indians and said that while Indians were over-represented when it came to robberies, the same could not be said for assaults. About 50 per cent of assaults on Indians occurred in their workplace, mostly involving taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, he said.

Mr Overland said some of the attacks were racist. "I have said from day one undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there is racist elements to these attacks," he said. "Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."

The comments come after a number of attacks on Indians, including the stabbing murder of student Nitin Garg in Melbourne earlier this month. In the latest incident, an Indian taxi driver was bashed in Reservoir, north Melbourne, on Saturday.


Peter Costello (below) has the last laugh

As usual, the Leftists haven't got a blind clue about what they are doing. Peter Costello is a former Federal treasurer

In terms of policy, this year started much better than last. Back then, Kevin Rudd published a treatise on the failure of the financial system and what had to be done about it. He said human history was at a turning point: "The international challenge for social democrats is to save capitalism from itself." The crisis was "the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free market ideology that has been variously called neo-liberalism, economic liberalism . . . or the Washington consensus". You can't be much clearer than that. And it looked like grand plans were afoot for financial regulation.

This year began with the Government releasing a report on proposals to build Australia as a financial centre. The report defined its vision as: "A financial sector which is open, competitive and underpinned by strong stable and sound institutions. It exhibits the lowest possible barriers to entry . . . so as to foster price competition and innovation." As a statement of neo-liberalism, economic liberalism, the Washington consensus or whatever, it could not have been more pure.

It is obvious the writers of this report have not read what the Prime Minister wrote last year on "the global financial crisis". As punishment, they should be made to read the entire thing between now and next Christmas.

This year's report thinks that if we have a problem with financial regulation, it is in a very different direction. It recommends periodic reviews to ensure we do not build up "excessive and unnecessary regulatory rules". It wants consultation with industry to ensure regulatory proposals "impose as small a compliance burden on industry as possible".

The Government welcomed the report. Last year, there wasn't enough regulation. Apparently, this year there might be too much. Whatever the problem, it was obviously caused by the failure of the Coalition government over the previous decade. Either it under-regulated or it is over-regulated. Take your pick and hold me responsible.

You can guess that I prefer this year's report. It was written by people who understand the financial system. It rightly notes that Australia has a great opportunity to market itself and attract more investment in financial services. It says: "Our financial sector ranks highly in international surveys on many of the key requirements for a successful financial centre. These include a highly skilled workforce and a first-class regulatory framework that has served us well through the global financial crisis." The big Australian banks are all AA-rated. They needed no nationalisation and no taxpayer support like banks in the US and Britain. None of the Australian banks even made a loss in the past two years. No regulatory system performed better than Australia's during the past two years. And the world has noticed.

Which makes it so surprising that Rudd chose the moment of Australia's great triumph to deliver his stinging critique of the system. In commenting about this then I said: "We can live with his polemic as long as we all understand that no one seriously believes it, and further, that no one seriously intends to act on it. It can be used to assuage a section of opinion that Rudd feels the need to cultivate. If he starts to take his writing seriously, we are in for a bad time."

Fortunately. no one took the prognostications too seriously. Sometimes our politicians are criticised for being all talk and no action. This is a case where the Government should be congratulated for taking no action. Twelve months later we have some sensible analysis. The best way to bury last year's analysis is to endorse this year's report.

Some recommendations will require careful consideration. For example, recommendations to alter tax rules to promote Australia as a competitor to Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands for offshore banking and investment. I expect the Labor backbench will need convincing on that one. If the Government were serious on this it would hardly be pursuing a tax assessment against the investors who floated Myer and used the structures the report wants to promote.

This is a discussion worth having, to look at ways to open the system more to promote investment and innovation. Australia has proved the value of the regulatory structures put in place after the financial inquiry of 1997. Going backwards to the beat of the ideological drum is not worth a crumpet.


Jury still out on climate change: CSIRO

Australia's peak science agency, the CSIRO, has backed away from attributing a decade of drought in Tasmania to climate change, claiming "the jury is still out" on the science.

The comments follow the issuing of a CSIRO report yesterday, revealing drought has cut water availability in northern Tasmania's premier wine growing region by 24 per cent, with riverflows reaching record lows. One of the report's co-authors, hydrologist David Post, told The Canberra Times there was "no evidence" linking drought to climate change in eastern Australia, including the Murray-Darling Basin. "At this stage, we'd prefer to say we're talking about natural variability. The science is not sufficiently advanced to say it's climate change, one way or the other. The jury is still out on that," Dr Post said.

Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown has accused CSIRO of "caving in to political pressure" to soften its stance on climate change in the lead-up to this year's federal election. "We should ask why CSIRO is prepared to turn an unaccountable blind eye to recent climate trends in Tasmania. This undercurrent of scepticism would seem to suggest the report has been politicised," Senator Brown said.

According to the report, rainfall in northern Tasmania's Pipers River region famed for its award-winning rieslings and pinot noir has dropped by 12 per cent in the past decade, with recent climate conditions "drier than those of the last 84 years."

More than 80 per cent of Tasmania's river catchments have been affected by drought, with the South Esk the island's longest river and source of water for beer production most at risk.


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