(Australian Associated Press)
Australians will have until the end of January to opt out of the controversial My Health Record system after the federal government caved to pressure.
One day ahead of the deadline, Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday announced the opt-out period would be extended until January 31 next year.
The decision came after legislation strengthening privacy protections for the electronic health record system was amended in the Senate to include the two-and-a-half month extension.
The amendment wouldn’t have become law before Thursday night’s deadline, prompting the minister to step in and extend the date.
While Labor and the Greens had pushed for a 12-month extension, the move was rebuffed in the Senate with the majority supporting One Nation’s amendment.
“Labor’s plan to delay and derail the roll out of the My Health Record was blocked today,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.
“We thank the crossbench for not delaying this important policy change as Labor tried so desperately to do.”
Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King said the government had quietly capitulated in the Senate to the extension.
“The Morrison government has been dragged kicking and screaming into accepting an extension to the My Health Record opt-out period,” she said.
Amendments to the bill before the Senate will include tougher penalties for people who misuse the system and stronger safeguards against people’s health records falling into the wrong hands.
The provisions would prevent domestic violence perpetrators from accessing records and ban employers from requesting and using health information.
No health information could be released to insurers.
Ms King said she hoped the extra time would allow federal parliament to refine the system to address privacy issues.
“The government’s implementation of the My Health Record has been a complete debacle from day one. Hopefully with this further delay they can finally get it right,” she said.
Despite privacy concerns, Mr Hunt said there had never been a reported security breach of the system.
“My Health Record was designed to save lives. It can help prevent medication misadventures that see more than 230,000 people end up in hospital each year,” he said.
Measures to ensure law enforcement agencies need a warrant or court order to access the data have already passed the lower house.