Wednesday, 18 January 2017 13:41

Govt proposing automation for health dept

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The Australian Government is proposing to extend the use of automation based on big data, to the health department, even though its efforts to do the same with Centrelink have not exactly been a success.

An amendment proposed to the National Health Act of 1953 would, "enable the minister, the secretary or the Chief Executive Medicare to arrange for the use of computer programs to make decisions and determinations, exercise powers or comply with obligations and do anything else related to those actions".

It would also "enable approved pharmacists whose premises have been affected by disaster or exceptional circumstances to supply pharmaceutical benefits at alternative premises in the same locality for a limited period and be paid for claims at the full rate; and ensure that entitlements for concessional beneficiaries and their dependants will apply for pharmaceutical benefits until midnight on the day of a person’s death".

The bill has completed a second reading in Parliament and would, presumably, be taken up for processing once sittings resume next month.

The Australian Privacy Foundation described the proposal as "The public service moving in the direction of robot-government, abandoning human-managed business
processes in favour of supposedly Artificial Intelligent systems."

APF chairperson Kat Lane said: "As the Centrelink debacle has demonstrated, automated decision-making cannot be trusted without direct human oversight.

"It is vital that the public stand up right now, and defeat these attempts by the bureaucracy to subject people to decisions based on bad data and badly-designed computer software."

She said the public service and business alike must be under legal obligations to:

  • act responsibly;
  • design business processes to reflect the fact that all results of data matching, and all automated processes, inherently involve errors of fact and judgement, and sometimes of law as well;
  • check the output from computer-based systems before acting on it;
  • ensure that there is sound evidence supporting all actions taken;
  • take no action harmful to the individual until after notice has been given and an appropriate opportunity has been provided for the individual to contest the matter;
  • provide copies of the relevant evidence, on request;
  • where the individual contests the matter, investigate the concerns and respond to the individual;
  • take no action harmful to the individual while the matter remains contested; and
  • inform the individual about their dispute rights and where to seek advice.

"Government agencies must not be permitted the freedom to be irresponsible," Lane added.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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