Senate committee asks health minister to consider 'limits' on new powers

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A key Senate committee has written to health minister Mark Butler asking that he amend proposed new laws to provide limits on new powers over medical device policy.

The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills assesses proposed new laws against a set of accountability standards that focus on their effect on individual rights, liberties and obligations, and on parliamentary scrutiny.

The new bills, which have been passed by the House of Representatives and tabled in the Senate, propose a dramatic reform of the framework for the private funding of medical devices - the Prostheses List - with the health minister given extensive discretionary new powers that can be delegated to officials.

According to the Committee, "...there is nothing on the face of the bill limiting or guiding the exercise of these discretions." It goes on to emphasise its concern "about the breadth of each discretion, particularly given that the exercise of the power under either proposed section 72-20 or 72-25 appear to have the potential to affect an individual's rights or interests."

The committee's concerns reflect those also expressed by the medical device sector and the Coalition, specifically the lack of detail over how these extensive new powers will be exercised.

"The committee expects that the inclusion of broad discretionary powers should be justified in the explanatory memorandum and that guidance in relation to the exercise of the power should be included within the primary legislation," it says.

The committee says it considers that it would have been possible to provide the minister or their delegate with the "necessary breadth" of power "while still providing appropriate safeguards in relation to the exercise of the power."

"The committee considers that it would have been more appropriate to include the considerations outlined in the explanatory memorandum as considerations within the bill. For example, by providing that the minister may, or must, consider whether removing a listing would adversely affect patient health, whether retaining a listing would be in the best interests of patients and clinicians and whether retaining or removing a listing would be in the public interest," it says.

It concludes by asking the minister to consider amendments to include a list of "considerations, or limitations" on the new discretionary powers. It requests a response by 22 February.