Second Reading

Resumed from 19 February.

Comments and speeches by various members

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [3.35 pm]: I rise as the lead speaker of the Greens to speak on the Western Australian Future Fund Amendment (Future Health Research and Innovation Fund) Bill 2019. The Western Australian Future Fund Act 2012, which was debated under the Barnett government when I was previously in Parliament, established the Western Australian Future Fund for the purpose of accumulating part of the revenue from Western Australia’s mineral resources to ensure that it was there for the benefit of future generations. That act initially credited from the royalties for regions fund $25 million and 25 per cent of the forecast fines royalty increase from 2013 to 2016, and since then the future fund has been credited annually with an amount equal to one per cent of the forecast royalty income for that financial year, which has been paid from consolidated revenue; whatever income the fund has earned from investments; and any other money that has been lawfully made available, such as extra appropriations, although I note that to date there have not been any. The act provides for the future fund to accumulate until 30 June 2032, and thereafter the accumulated principal is to be retained in perpetuity. The income can be applied to public works and other public infrastructure pursuant to agreement between the Treasurer and the Minister for Regional Development on the purpose and division between the metropolitan area and the regions. The act contains a manner and form provision that is intended to prevent its operative parts from being amended or repealed before 30 June 2032 unless both the second and third readings of the amending or repealing bill are passed with an absolute majority of each house of Parliament, so I note that we will require an absolute majority to achieve passage of this bill.

In 2012, the legislation may have been passed unopposed, but it was not passed without criticism. In particular, I note that the then Labor opposition criticised the bill heavily. It made the point at the time that it felt the money should instead be used to pay off what was then escalating debt, because the interest that would be earned on the future fund would be lower than the interest that was being paid on the state’s debt. It also made the point that a future fund is for when debt levels are low, not when they are high. The opposition at the time considered that the manner and form provision was not legally binding and that there were substantial opportunity costs, and it talked about a whole range of other things that it felt the money would be better spent on, such as infrastructure and other priorities around health—the usual things that we need to try to find funds for.

Six months out from the election, the then Labor opposition called it a political gimmick. In his contribution, the then shadow Minister for Health, Hon Roger Cook, suggested that a medical research sovereign fund would be better. He spoke at the time about how he felt that investing in medical research improves clinical services because it attracts the best and the brightest. He also talked about it delivering economic benefits. He referred quite glowingly to the precedent for this in Alberta, Canada, where there has been significant investment in medical research that has led to Alberta becoming a focal point for medical research in Canada. As a result, it tends to attract top-level medical specialists and medical researchers and, in turn, that has produced better clinical services for Albertans, and I will have a little more to say about the way that that fund has been structured in a moment. I note that the then Australian Labor Party opposition’s concern about putting money into the future fund instead of paying off debt was shared by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia. In 2014, The Australian Financial Review reported that the future fund was, as predicted, generating less return than the interest being incurred on state debt. The article cited CCI chief economist John Nicolaou as saying that he felt it was a hard policy to justify, considering the state had lost its AAA credit rating. He pointed out that the money was needed right now.

Here we are, looking at what reform we can potentially have in this space. The current size of the future fund is around $1.4 billion. In the last financial year it earned around $64 million from royalties and around $40 million of income from investments. Every year since it was established, its investment income has been more than forecast. Until now, the forecast has been calculated fairly conservatively, by adding the balance plus the forecast royalty income for the year, and then multiplying the total by the Western Australian Treasury Corporation’s cost of the fund. However, from now on, the Western Australian Treasury Corporation and the Department of Treasury are looking at calculating the forecast using a different method that is considered to be more accurate. The future fund is currently invested across a number of cash instruments and it also has cash.

This bill will effectively change the purpose and the object of the act. The new purpose will be to provide a secure source of funding for what are termed qualifying activities that directly or indirectly contribute to one or more of the following: improving the financial sustainability of Western Australia’s health system, improving the health and wellbeing of Western Australians, improving Western Australia’s economic prosperity, and advancing Western Australia to continue to be a national and international leader in any qualifying activities. Qualifying activities are any type of research or innovation in the field of medicine or human health or the commercialisation or utilisation or development of the products or outcome of that research or innovation. The future fund, which will be called the future health research and innovation fund—I will just call it “the fund” for the purpose of this contribution—will continue to exist and will still increase annually by one per cent of royalty income. It will still be able to receive other moneys such as appropriations or, potentially, private sector or commonwealth government contributions to research and innovation. All these funds will still be held in perpetuity. The manner and form provision in the act will also continue, despite the government’s scepticism about whether it is legally binding. The fund will still be able to be invested to earn income in the same way. However, what will change under this bill is that the investment income being earned by the fund will be able to be spent, provided it is on the new purpose or the object. To facilitate this, a special purpose account, which is to be administered by the Minister for Health and is to be called the future health research and innovation account, will be established. I will just call it “the account” for the purpose of this contribution. Each year the fund will pay into the account an amount equalling the annual investment income that has been forecast for that year. The account will also be able to receive moneys such as appropriations. As I said earlier, the method of calculation will be changed to become less conservative. If the forecast turns out to be higher than the income, the amount paid from the fund to the account the following year will not be reduced as a result of that shortfall. I make the point that although the method of calculating the forecast income will, hopefully, be a little more accurate, I hope that if the figures prove to be wildly wrong, the calculation method will be reviewed.

Spending decisions about how to apply the money in the account are to be made by the Minister for Health. The Minister for Health will be able to delegate that function to the CEO of the department principally assisting the Minister for Health in the administration of the account. The CEO can in turn further delegate that function to a public service officer in that department. The discretion of the minister or the eventual delegate over spending decisions is very broad. I also note that it is very subjective. The bill will allow the minister or the delegate to make or approve arrangements that the minister or the delegate considers will facilitate furthering the purpose that I have already mentioned. The arrangement is also defined very broadly. It means a project, a contract, a scheme or any other type of arrangement. The explanatory memorandum and debate in the other place indicate that it would include, for example, a prize in a hackathon, a grant, or paying for costs or services. Debate in the other place indicated that it could also potentially include the state taking equity shares in a project, although that could become financially complex by, for example, involving the state in one-on-one fundraising activities. If that is not already broad enough, in addition, the regulations will be able to prescribe other cases in which the account’s money can be applied, provided always that the minister or the eventual delegate considers that the expenditure will further or facilitate the furthering of the purpose. In the other place, the minister indicated that a delegate will not be able to sign off on contracts above $50 000, or grants amounting to that value, without the approval of a senior public servant in the Department of Health, but I note that that is policy and is not in the bill itself. If the funding arrangement results in profit, the profits will be able to be paid into the account. They will be able to remain there or, alternatively, the Treasurer and the minister can jointly direct in writing that they be transferred from the account to the fund. They will not be able to go back into consolidated revenue.

Another change made by the bill is that the minister must establish and maintain an advisory group. That will comprise the CEO or the CEO’s nominee, who will be a non-voting member and cannot be the chairperson, and the CEO or the CEO’s nominee from the department next most closely involved with qualifying activities—for example, the department assisting the Minister for Science or the Minister for Innovation. Again, that person will be a non-voting member and also will not be able to be the chairperson. It will also include a community representative who has been appointed by the Minister for Health, a person the minister considers to be an expert in qualifying activities that are research, a person the minister considers to be an expert in qualifying activities that are innovation, and at least three more people the minister considers to have a suitable variety and a level of relevant expertise and experience, including at least one person the minister considers to have experience with the health of Aboriginal Western Australians and at least one person the minister considers to have experience with the health of regional Western Australians. Advisory group members will have a term of up to five years and will be able to be reappointed. They will hold office according to the conditions in their instrument of appointment. Those conditions must include what steps the member must take in the event of an actual or a potential material conflict of interest. The minister will be able to determine the advisory group’s operational and procedural matters, including quorum and voting. Otherwise, the advisory group will be able to determine its own procedure, including performing its functions via the establishment of subgroups of its members. I note that no civil liability will attach to advisory group members for anything they do, as long as they do it in good faith. The function of the advisory group will be to provide the minister or the department with advice or other assistance on request from time to time about furthering or facilitating the account’s purpose, or other matters relating to the minister’s functions regarding the account’s establishment or application. The government is estimating that the operational costs of administering the bill will be around $5 million a year. It is a rough estimate and is obviously intended to be refined over time. The $5 million will come from existing research funding and not from the account; that is, the ordinary budget of the Department of Health will pay for its operating costs associated with the bill, including those of the advisory group. The ordinary Treasury budget will pay for the operating costs associated with its financial management obligations under the bill. The account is for health research and innovation only; it is not for operational costs.

The transparency provisions in the bill include the forecast investment income from the fund, which is intended to be published in the budget papers. Both the Financial Management Act and the Auditor General Act apply to this account. The Department of Health’s annual report must contain information about the operation of both the account and the fund during the financial year, including the amount that is charged to the fund during the year and how the money in the account was applied. I have a couple of questions that I hope the parliamentary secretary is able to answer in the course of the second reading reply. If not, I will explore it further in Committee of the Whole during consideration of clause 1. I ask the parliamentary secretary representing the Minister for Health to please confirm for the record that our freedom of information laws will apply in the usual way and that section 4 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act allowing Parliament and committees to summons people to attend to give evidence or produce documents also applies. I anticipate that the answer to both those question will be yes, but I would appreciate having that on the record.

Separate from the bill, the government has tabled the “Western Australian FHRI Fund Governance Framework”, which has been prepared by the Department of Health. Paragraph 1.3 states —

The key principles of the Framework have been informed by the Public Sector Commission’s Principles of good governance for boards and committees and the design principles identified in the Baseline review for the Future Health Research and Innovation (FHRI) Fund — Final Report (Deloitte Access Economics, September 2018).

Being separate from the bill, I point out that its contents are not binding and cannot be amended by Parliament. Nonetheless, the framework at least puts on the record the government’s intentions, and that is that the fund does not seek to replace funding from other sources such as grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council nor to subsidise things the recipient should be doing anyway as part of its normal business activities. The fund will have two funding streams—one for research and one for innovation—and the advisory group, referred to as the “advisory council” in the framework, will develop a strategy of goals for research and innovation and recommend those to the minister for approval. The first strategy will be for three years and subsequent strategies for five years. We have been advised that the strategies will involve extensive consultation with stakeholders as well as state-endorsed reports and reviews such as the “Sustainable Health Review Final Report” and also reports of various inquiries and taskforces that have made recommendations that are subsequently supported by government. I was advised at a briefing that the intention is to publish the strategy online. I would appreciate confirmation that that is indeed the case. From the strategy, the advisory council will identify for the minister’s approval the priorities and the proportion of funding each priority should receive, and these will be published online following approval. The Department of Health will develop and implement for the minister’s approval programs and initiatives that contribute to achieving one or more of the priorities, and these programs and initiatives will complement, not replace, other sources of funding such as the National Health and Medical Research Council and, when possible, be co-funded and collaborative. They will also provide direct returns to Western Australia. For example, they will be based in Western Australia and expend funding in WA. They will also use competitive and peer-reviewed selection processes like those of the National Health and Medical Research Council to choose recipients, and information will be published online and in the annual report after funding decisions are made.

The advisory council expert committee’s support for the advisory council and the Department of Health’s research and innovation office will be subject to three-yearly performance reviews, with the outcomes published in the annual report. The fund’s annual forecast investment earnings will be published in an appendix to budget paper No 3. The advisory council and the expert committee will each have a code of conduct, a conflict-of-interest management policy, a conflict-of-interest register and a registers of gifts, benefits and hospitality. Their respective chairs will be responsible for ensuring that conflicts of interest are identified, managed and recorded, and deciding how much of that information is subsequently published online. Published information will include the advisory council preparing an annual report to the minister, and that will be published online. Each expert committee will also produce a report that will be included in the annual report. The three-yearly performance review of the advisory council, the expert committees and the research and innovation office of the Department of Health will be included in the annual report. The Department of Health will make the priorities, programs and initiatives and the market-led proposals and individual grants publicly available. The intention is to put that information online. Evaluations are discussed at chapter 9 of the framework. The Department of Health will develop the evaluation framework that will be approved by the minister, but this will not apply to investment management and performance, which remain the Treasurer’s responsibility. The evaluation will instead consider the programs, initiatives, priorities, strategies and the health of the fund overall. Evaluations will be conducted by an external provider and presented by the advisory group to the minister for approval. What will be measured and how it will be measured is not clear. The framework provides lists of possibilities, while also noting that measuring impacts in a meaningful way will be challenging and that it may be many years before there is measurably better health or economic prosperity. The framework will be reviewed by the Department of Health annually, or at least once every five years, and any amendments need to be approved by the minister. Although there is no requirement for that information be tabled or published, I was advised at the briefing that it will be published online, or at least that is the intention.

The need for WA’s health system to get better at research and innovation was recognised by the independent Sustainable Health Review in 2018. The review recommended strategy 8, which is titled “Innovate for Sustainability” and states that innovation and research are vital to achieving a more sustainable WA health system. That review went on to note that the evidence for the economic benefits from innovation are significant. Recommendation 28 of the review was to establish a system-wide network of innovation units and review identified priorities for being able to implement that. Those priorities included that the fund be aligned to provide secure funding and foster a culture of innovation, and that a central unit be established to help with intellectual property, legal, marketing and protocols commercialisation, and to facilitate sharing innovative work across the system. Recommendation 29 was that future research activities and investments be linked to WA health system priorities and be actively translated into practice. The priorities that the review identified for implementing that included that the fund be aligned to provide secure funding and foster a culture of research and translation. Another was for the public reporting of both research and translation. We have been talking about the need to improve our capacity for health research for quite some time. As far back as 2004, the Reid report similarly identified the need to support clinical research and noted that that was a way to attract and retain good clinical staff. Even as far back as 2004, the Reid report identified the need for an innovation fund.

The nearest commonwealth equivalent to this bill would probably be the Medical Research Future Fund Act 2015. I make particular reference to that act in the context of this bill because, unlike this one, which I believe contains many important government provisions in the separate framework document, the commonwealth legislation has embedded many of those important governance matters in the legislation itself. I believe that is a better approach to dealing with critical issues of governance.

The sorts of provisions that the commonwealth legislation has embedded, which are not in this legislation, are when exercising discretion about expenditure from the fund, the minister is required to take into account the priorities currently in force; and the legislated functions of the advisory group, which is an advisory board under the commonwealth legislation, and include determining the strategy and the priorities, not just advising on matters that are referred by the minister. The commonwealth legislation addresses the strategy, which is enforced for five years, and requires it to be published on the internet and it must not require financial assistance to be provided to a particular person or for a particular project. The commonwealth legislation also addresses the priorities, which are in force for two years and are required to be published on the internet. The legislation mandates that certain matters need to be taken into account in determining priorities, including the burden of a disease on the community, how to maximise practical benefits, how to provide the greatest value and how to ensure that that expenditure complements and enhances other expenditure on medical research and innovation.

I have a bit of a mixed view on issues such as the burden of disease on the community. I will have a little more to say on that in a moment. I note that Hon Matthew Swinbourn in particular shares my passion for ensuring that rare diseases are given the priority I think they deserve, remembering that about 300 million people worldwide as a whole are affected by rare diseases. I am always concerned if rare diseases are bumped to the bottom of any sort of research priority simply because of numbers, when so many people are affected. That aside, I at least appreciate that there are criteria within the commonwealth legislation to try to put some parameters around how particular research priorities are determined.

The commonwealth legislation also mandates consultation before determining the strategy or the priorities and it requires members of the advisory board to disclose any material personal interest as soon as possible to both the advisory board and the minister. Those disclosures have to be recorded in the minutes of that meeting and in the event of non-disclosure, the minister is required to terminate the member’s appointment unless there is a reasonable excuse.

Under the commonwealth legislation, the minister is required to provide information two-yearly. When the priority has expired, the minister must prepare and table a report showing how the funds provided were consistent with the priorities, what process was used to determine grants and information about any other commonwealth financial assistance that was provided. Each time a grant is made, the minister must publish on the internet the amount, to whom it was paid and any other relevant matter.

Importantly, the commonwealth legislation also includes a review clause. To protect against cost shifting, the review is required to include consideration of whether expenditure has complemented and enhanced other commonwealth funding for medical research and innovation, or otherwise effected the total amount of commonwealth funding for medical research and innovation. The commonwealth legislation addresses how the funds can be invested, although the only exclusion in the act itself is that ministers must not direct the future fund board to assist in a particular financial asset, acquire a particular derivative or allocate financial assets to particular businesses or activities.

A separate environmental, social and governance policy is published on the future fund board’s website that contains further exclusions. Currently, there are exclusions for two groups of companies. I support those exclusions—that is, those involved in the primary manufacture of complete tobacco products and those related to military weapons– related conventions or treaties that have been ratified by Australia such as the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. I asked about this at the briefing because I think it is very important that this bill will not facilitate investment that is inimical to human health. It is my understanding—I ask the parliamentary secretary to please confirm this for the record—that unlike the commonwealth, this state is not able to invest in shares; therefore, the fund and the account will definitely not be invested in tobacco, cluster munitions, alcohol or junk food, for example.

I said I would say a little about the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which I know Hon Roger Cook has spoken about glowingly in the past, because there is a precedent for bills of this sort outside Australia. I want to talk specifically about the situation in Alberta, Canada. The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund was established by the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund Act in 1976 with 30 per cent of annual non-renewable resource revenue, plus $1.5 billion from general revenue. Part of the annual net income must be retained in the fund to proof it against inflation. What happens with the rest of the fund’s annual income has varied over the years, depending on the objects at the time, which are decided in consultation with Albertans. Sometimes the objects have been to maximise long-term financial returns for current and future generations. Sometimes the objects have been broader, including diversification of the economy and simply improving Albertans’ quality of life. Depending on the objects at the time, the balance of the annual income has been able to be transferred to consolidated revenue to help pay for priority programs. The objects seem to have been broadest in the earliest years of that fund. Accordingly, in the 1980s, some of its moneys were spent on capital projects that were designed to simply help Albertans’ quality of life, including developing parks, enhancing libraries and maintaining forests, as well as diversifying the economy.

Under the fund’s governing act, there is a nine-member all-party standing committee of the Legislative Assembly with the functions of reviewing that fund’s quarterly reports. That standing committee of the Legislative Assembly also has the responsibility for approving the annual report, reviewing the performance annually and reporting directly to Parliament on whether the fund’s mission has been fulfilled. It also has the responsibility of ensuring that it meets with Albertans on the fund’s investment activities and the results.

Regulations can be made to determine what investments can be made. The fund’s annual report provides considerable information about the nature of the investments, including the names of the companies that have invested in the sector. A statement of investment policies and goals overarches the investment strategy. Like the commonwealth legislation here, that also makes it clear that the fund cannot directly hold investments in the tobacco industry.

The Greens do support using the income from the future fund for medical and health research and innovation. At the federal level, we supported the establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund. At the time, the Greens advocated for that fund to support commercialisation. The 2013 McKeon review reported obstacles to taking health and medical research and innovation from breakthrough through to commercial success. It noted that commercialisation needs funding at three stages—pre-clinical, early clinical and late clinical—but funding shortfalls at the first two stages have such a negative impact that they are called the “twin valleys of death”. Therefore, targeted government support is necessary for us to help facilitate those two earlier stages. At the federal level, the Greens also advocated for increased funding for the National Health and Medical Research Council.

As I have previously indicated, on a personal level, I also very much support the need to invest in additional medical research, recognising that when we find cures and/or improve the lives and wellbeing of people who have a series of health issues, it saves costs in others areas within the community.

We often facilitate people to a point of health at which they are able to participate fully in our community at every level, including full employment. I think it is important that we recognise that there are so many people who benefit from good medical research. I have spoken before about my particular interest—for which I am not alone in this chamber—in addressing some of the rarer diseases. In recent times, I have taken a particular interest in a lot of the research that is happening in this state around eye health. I note that organisations such as Retina Australia are trying very hard to attract dollars for the purposes of trying to improve eye health. A significant number of people have vision impairment or are blind or going blind and they are constantly scrabbling for more research to be undertaken in this area. Part of the problem is that a lot of the people who are affected by eye diseases fall within that rare disease category, and so the money never becomes available to undertake a lot of that research. I have indicated in the past that we are lucky to have the Lions Eye Institute in Western Australia with some leading international doctors on eye health, who, nevertheless, would love to be able to contribute more to international efforts around eye health research, but the dollars are not there to maximise their capacity to do that. I am particularly interested to see moneys being made available. I think it is a priority of government, particularly in those first two tranches of research, to be able to facilitate finding cures.

As I said, 300 000 million people—I think I got that figure wrong earlier—are affected globally. The community represents the largest health constituency—namely, people who are affected by rare diseases. Particularly, Retina International, which consists of 43 member organisations across the globe, is trying to understand the complexity of rare diseases. I understand the challenge more than most because it is looking particularly at inherited retinal diseases as among some of the most complex genetic disorders with over 260 genes identified to date. The complexity of these conditions underlies the need to support research from concept through to therapy delivery. As a community, we are not ensuring that researchers are able to get the sorts of dollars they need to undertake that research. There is a lot of excitement about the prospect of some of the early research being undertaken and some of the treatments; however, they have identified that much more investment is needed, particularly in retinal research, in order to go some way toward providing necessary care and treatments to all in our community.

I am very supportive at a personal level of investment in even the most basic research. We have a lot of work that we need to undertake and that means we need dollars. That is what makes me happy about this bill. That is what makes me happy about the idea of trying to ensure that we have an ongoing fund that will prioritise medical research. Of course I support the policy that this legislation is trying to achieve—how could anyone not? But I have concerns about the way this bill has been written. I have referred to the previous legislation that I mentioned, particularly the situation in Alberta, Canada and the commonwealth legislation, because that highlights some of the concerns I have about the way in which this legislation has been presented. As happy as the Greens are to support the future fund for medical and health research and innovation, we are concerned—I remain very concerned—that the bill is very sketchy when it comes to governance and transparency. For example, under the legislation the minister or the minister’s delegate, or even that delegate’s delegate, has enormous discretion with very little guidance on how that discretion should be exercised. I am also concerned that the advisory group’s role, like some of the other advisory groups in similar legislation, is merely to assist on request. That is very different from the role that advisory groups play in other legislation. All the bill actually says about conflict of interest is that the instrument appointing members of the advisory council must say what happens if the member has an actual or potential material conflict of interest. The legislation does not make explicit whether a conflict of interest must be recorded in the minutes, whether the person can participate in the discussions or even vote, whether there is a penalty for failure to disclose a conflict of interest or whether the advisory group can determine that there is a conflict of interest in the event of nondisclosure. There is also nothing in this bill about evaluation, nor any review clause. Although the governance framework that I referred to earlier addresses some of those gaps, as I also noted at the time, that framework is not binding, Parliament cannot amend it and it is subject to unilateral change by the government of the day. There is not even a requirement that the most up-to-date version of whatever the framework may be is tabled or otherwise published. I think it is a pity that the McGowan government has not taken the opportunity to use the legislation as a mechanism for ensuring that it is hardwiring crucial governance matters. I remind members that these funds will be taken from moneys earmarked for the future of Western Australians.

I note that one of the critical success factors for implementation identified in the sustainable health review was good governance. Key considerations in that review identified including hardwiring change using governance architecture to make sure that we are creating tangible reform and aligning the implementation agenda to broaden legislation and also to governance frameworks. I also note the sharp contrast between the approach taken in this bill and that used in the Infrastructure Western Australia Bill. In the debate on that bill, I stood in this chamber and talked about governance as well. Although I appreciate the difference—IWA is an independent statutory body— the point remains that the careful way in which the Infrastructure Western Australia Bill was drafted put into practice the lessons learnt from the Langoulant report about the importance of transparency and the WA public’s entitlement to relevant information that assists it in understanding government decisions, performance and plans so it can hold the public sector to account.

I also want to draw to members’ attention to a Corruption and Crime Commission report of 2015 titled “Report on the Misconduct Intelligence Assessment of the Western Australian Public Sector”. As the title suggests, that report was a risk assessment. It was not an investigation into alleged misconduct. That CCC report identified WA Health as one of the public sector agencies at high risk. Of course, I absolutely acknowledge that WA Health does a lot of things extremely well. My goodness; we are all very grateful for the work WA Health is doing right now trying to deal with the pandemic crisis and it often has to deal with very challenging circumstances, but it is unfortunately true that there have been too many instances of alleged misconduct. Obviously, I am thinking particularly of the North Metropolitan Health Service’s contracts scandal, but there have also been many CCC investigations into WA Health over the last few years, and some of them have been particularly damning—and also included huge amounts of money. On top of that, given the recent scandal involving a senior public servant at the Department of Communities, I think now is the time, members, for everyone to be particularly cautious about bills that give such broad discretion as this bill proposes. The CCC report I referred to identifies some specific corruption and misconduct risks for WA Health, and significant to this bill, the very first item in that list talks about relationships to industry. They include gifts and benefits, sponsored travel, sponsorships and donations, and research grants. The report specifically talked about that as an area of potential risk. The CCC report also identified boards and committees in the public sector generally, not just in public health, as an area of potential and emerging risk. The report explained —

Boards and committees both regulate and promote particular industries and their members are often chosen because of their relationship to, and knowledge of, the industry. This close and potentially conflicted relationship to industry may give rise to perceived and actual conflicts of interest. The corruption and misconduct risks in this context are considerable.

Although I absolutely support the intention underlying the bill, it is for all those reasons that I am disappointed by the missed opportunity to draft this bill in a way that guides the exercise of the discretion of the minister, the minister’s delegates or the delegates’ delegates; clarifies the role of the advisory group, as exists in other similar legislation; clarifies what happens if a member of the advisory group or expert committee has a conflict of interest, which I think is highly likely in a small community of experts and even more likely in a small state such as Western Australia; and mandates the publication of documents relating to all of these very important things and not just annual reports and the amount of annual funding. Although the governance framework document is very helpful and addresses some of these things, it is not binding, and I do not think it is a substitute for a better bill.

Members will see from the supplementary notice paper that I am proposing some amendments, the purpose of which will be to hardwire into the bill greater transparency in two areas—first, expenditure of the account, the how, not just the how much; and second, addressing conflicts of interest in that advisory group. These are really important matters that the public is absolutely entitled to know about. This keeps a light shining on those two areas that have previously been identified as where the risk of misconduct is the greatest. If passed, I think my amendments will deliver important protection, which is then guaranteed in the body of the bill and not in a non-binding framework that could be changed at any time without people being aware. The amendments do not require anything different from the framework; they just make some of the framework’s more important promises binding. This is Western Australia’s future fund, so we need to make sure that we do everything we can to protect it for Western Australians. I ask members to seriously consider supporting my amendments.

Before I conclude my comments, another concern I have is that the growth of WA research is being impeded by the lack of privacy legislation. I have raised that issue on a number of occasions over the last couple of years. I believe that the lack of privacy legislation is an impediment to WA being able to grow its participation in world-class medical and health research. The WA Chief Scientist has found evidence that other states and countries are, unfortunately, hesitant to share data with WA due to a lack of privacy legislation. As I mentioned before, health research, particularly on a lot of rare diseases, is now global, and WA’s competitors and collaborators are often in jurisdictions that have those privacy laws, and our lack of privacy laws is putting WA at a competitive disadvantage. In particular, research is increasingly required to comply with the European Union’s general data protection regulation, so for WA to ensure that it can compete and collaborate in medical and health research on an equal basis we need to ensure that WA’s privacy laws are aligned to those of the EU and meet the EU’s requirements so that personal data held in the EU can be transferred to our research institutions here in Western Australia. I understand that the Department of the Premier and Cabinet is already working on privacy laws and the Department of Health is at the table and has raised this issue. I ask the parliamentary secretary to please confirm that the Department of Health will advocate strongly via that forum to progress privacy laws and to remove that impediment to WA’s medical and health research as quickly as possible so that this bill can deliver the greatest possible bang for our future buck.

Overall, the Greens are very supportive of what this legislation is trying to achieve. I believe that my amendments on the supplementary notice paper will make it a better and more effective bill, and at the same time will in no way impede the capacity of the bill to enable the undertaking of the best possible research in a global context. I hope that the amendments are given serious consideration. Overall, I see this bill as a positive step.

Comments and speeches by various members

Debate interrupted, pursuant to standing orders.


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