Labor Lays Out Plan for Innovation and Science

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In his address, which touched on everything from the invention of Australian bank notes and sheep-shearing to artificial intelligence and climate change,  Mr Albanese sought to outline his party’s vision for a path forward for Australia in a post-COVID environment.

At the heart of Labor’s Sixth Vision Statement was an Australian future “powered by science” to address the nation’s future challenges.

Mr Albanese highlighted Australia’s now obvious reliance on services and the export of raw materials.

“We’re making ourselves vulnerable to a decline in living standards,” Mr Albanese said.

“But this is our chance to start turning things around. The future belongs to those countries that innovate, adapt and adjust. When it comes to repairing and building that economy, technology and innovation will be key to boosting productivity, growing local manufacturing and achieving self-reliance.”

Although Mr Albanese’s title is the Leader of the Opposition, his approach outlined throughout his vision speeches reflects back to a statement he made in the first few months of his leadership.

“I want to be the Labor Leader not the Opposition Leader,” he said. This approach has permeated through to each of his vision statements, where he has advocated for a collaborative approach with the Morrison Government.

Mr Albanese did, however, carve out a difference of position to the Morrison Government in his call for greater R&D funding.

Criticising the former Abbott Government for “hollowing out the CSIRO”, the Labor Leader blamed the Morrison Government for low levels of R&D funding, noting that “R&D investment has fallen between 2 per cent of GDP” meaning it was now below countries like South Korea, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, and Singapore.

Australia needs a comprehensive plan to create a supply of STEM workers, which is undermined by contracting out at the CSIRO and cuts to R&D tax incentives.

Mr Albanese bellies the best-practice countries are the ones that drive innovation more directly, focusing their national research efforts into areas of comparative advantage or ‘national missions’.

Despite this criticism, Mr Albanese has joined the Prime Minister in calling for the innovative policy solutions to be guided by scientific facts rather than ideologies.

In his closing remarks, Mr Albanese said “Labor understands intrinsically the core role of science in improving lives, strengthening the economy and, ultimately, lifting us up as a nation and making us bigger as people.

“To brighten the future, we need only look to the core ingredients we’ve relied on before.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Since the Prime Minister formed the National Cabinet, it has worked effectively to response to COVID-19. But with news of the cessation of COAG, the new National Federation Reform Council (NFRC), agreed by Premiers, Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister, will change the way the Commonwealth and State and Territories effectively and productively work together to address new areas of reform.

The National Cabinet will be driven by an initial single agenda – to create jobs.

By an measure National Cabinet has proven to be a much more effective body for taking decision in the national interest than the COAG structure.

At the centre of the NFRC will be National Cabinet. National Cabinet will continue to meet regularly and will be briefed directly by experts such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Initial reform areas will be agreed by National Cabinet.

During the COVID-19 period, National Cabinet is expected to continue to meet every two weeks. In the future, these meetings will take place once a month,

The Council of Federal Financial Relations (CFFR), which is essentially a meeting of all Treasurers, will report to National Cabinet. CFFR will take responsibility for all funding agreements including National Partnership Agreements.

Important taskforce will continue in areas that are critical to the National Agenda. The taskforce on women’s safety and domestic violence will continue their critical work, as will the indigenous Adair’s taskforce with a particular focus on Closing the Gap.

Once a year, National Cabinet, CFFR and the Australian Local Government Association will meet in person as the National Federation Reform Council with a focus on prioritising national federation issues such as Closing the Gap and Women’s Safety.

This new model is expected to streamline processes and avoid endless meetings that do not result in action. The Prime Minister has said this  is a congestion busting process that will get things done with a single focus on creating jobs.

Further details on the National Federation Reform Council and consolidation and reset of the Ministerial Forums and Ministerial Regulatory Council will be reviewed by National Cabinet.



[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]For business and industry, these changes not only affect the normal course of engagement with MPs and Senators, but it also gives an insight into the challenges that Government are facing with regards to the outbreak of COVID-19.

With this in mind, here are our thoughts on what these changes to the 2020/21 Budget and Parliamentary Sitting Calendar could mean for business going forward.


Due to the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced on Friday last week that the Federal Budget will be delayed until the first Tuesday in October – Tuesday 6 October 2020.

Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP elaborated on the decision to delay the Budget, stating that COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy were creating too much uncertainty for the Morrison Government to create a Budget that could accurately reflect Australia’s economic position.

In addition to the delay of the Federal Budget, all the states and territories have also indicated that they are also delaying their budgets due to the pressing nature of the COVID-19 response. At this stage, the states and territories have not indicated when their Budgets will be handed down, however, the Prime Minister has indicated that the states and territories will be working to similar timeframes.


Following further restrictions due to COVID-19, the Parliament passed a revised Parliamentary Sitting Calendar to ensure that Parliamentarians, their staff and the staff of Parliament House minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

The biggest change in the new Parliamentary calendar is the removal of the May and June sitting fortnights in June, as well as the sitting week for the Budget in May 2020. At this stage, the Parliament is due to reconvene on 11 August 2020.

Business and industry should be aware that although the new Sitting Calendar indicates a Parliamentary return in August, the COVID-19 situation is ever-evolving and should it be necessary, the Parliament may make the decision to cancel further sitting weeks, should it deem it appropriate to safeguard the health of Parliamentarians and their staff.



One of the key takeaways for business and industry is that the delay in reconvening Parliament can serve as an excellent indication of the timeframe that Government and key authorities are working towards with regards to COVID-19. Therefore, unless major positive developments occur in the interim, people should expect restrictions associated with reducing the spread of COVID-19 to remain in force at least until August 2020.

However, August 2020 is not a firm time for the lifting of restrictions and the Government has indicated should the COVID-19 situation not improve in the next few months, the Government will continue to enforce current restrictions. If the situation deteriorates, the Government has indicated that it will introduce tougher restrictions on people’s movement and interactions with other people.


With the regards to the delayed Budget, business and industry should be aware that this year’s Budget will drastically diverge from last year’s projections. Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP and the Morrison Government will likely to be focused on ensuring that continued stimulus is pumped into the Australian economy to avoid deep economic stagnation.

Many pundits are predicting that due to COVID-19, the Australian economy is likely to fall into recession (two consecutive quarters of economic growth) and should this occur, the Government will be concerned with ensuring that the effects of a recession have a minimal impact on the broader community. Currently, the Morrison Government has indicated that despite the nearly 200 billion in stimulus already announced, further stimulus packages could be released as the economic impact of COVID-19 evolves and changes.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Of their household costs, survey respondents identified private health insurance as their most pressing cost concern (80%), beating fuel (78%) and electricity (74%).[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]“With premiums set to rise again on April 1, time is running out to avoid health insurance rip- offs. You only have a couple of weeks to take action on your health insurance,” says CHOICE consumer advocate Jonathan Brown.

“Private health insurance has officially taken over energy as the most pressing household cost concern. Since the introduction of the new Gold, Silver and Bronze health tiers last year, CHOICE’s experts have been doing deep analysis and crunching the numbers to help cut through the confusion.”

In 2019 CHOICE analysis found some Australians were paying an additional $1700 a year on some Silver Plus policies and the consumer advocate awarded Medibank a Shonky Award for ‘Basic’ cover that was more expensive than a number of ‘Bronze’ policies. Analysis was made possible by CHOICE’s team of expert analysts and non-profit and independent health insurance comparison tool.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”4423″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

CHOICE Health Insurance Action Plan

 CHOICE has released a 5 step action plan to help Australians before the April 1 price rises:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”4424″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]“The CHOICE Health Insurance Action Plan is about cutting through the crap. Some commercial comparison sites compare as few as seven health funds. As a non-profit, CHOICE wants to help you make the right decision for you and your loved one’s needs. That includes figuring out if you even need private health insurance.”

The full CHOICE Health Insurance Action Plan is available at: (We’d love a link back if possible)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mr Burgess said Medibank’s attempts this week to blame medical device usage for its alleged profit downturn flies in the face of APRA data released Tuesday, showing insurer net profit after tax (NPAT) was up 21 per cent in the Dec 19 Qtr from $1.19 billion to $1.44 billion.

Medibank also failed to declare today the upwards of $400 million in direct medical device savings Health Minister Greg Hunt had already delivered private health insurers since 2017.

“It’s comments like these from Medibank today that are destroying consumer and investor confidence in their own products and performance, as well as the broader sector. No wonder they’re in a self-proclaimed ‘death spiral’,” Mr Burgess said.

“Private health insurers haven’t paid one extra cent for medical devices over the past two premium years, despite raising premiums twice-inflation and banking nearly $1 billion in profits between the big corporate health funds, including Medibank.

“It’s not the role of medical devices to keep propping up Medibank’s managerial inaction and incompetence, while they continue to feather their nest with taxpayer handouts and corporate bailouts.

“Medibank’s management seems to routinely fail to understand that timely access to the best and latest medical devices is exactly why their customers put up with years of premium pain. Reducing access will only reduce customers.

“Medibank’s customers have clearly had enough of their premiums increasing faster than house prices with no matching increase in benefits and are finally cashing in their chips before they’re forced out altogether.

“If Medibank can still afford to pay a dividend to its shareholders, it can afford to drop its prices for its customers.”

Mr Burgess also questioned why there was no mention in Medibank’s statement today of the benefits that were about to flow through from recent price cuts on 1 Feb 2020 to over 7000 medical technologies like pacemakers, insulin pumps, eye lenses, hip and knee replacements and more.


“Medical device manufactures have cut their prices upwards of 40 per cent in the past 3 years as a result of the direct lobbying of insurers like Medibank to help reduce premiums and increase access.

“It’s a safe bet that the first private health insurer whose premium increases go below zero will increase their market share overnight.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mr Burgess said over 2 million Australians dumped their private health insurance in the last five years and this week’s December quarter APRA figures confirmed this trend was continuing, with only 44.0% per cent of the country now covered.

At the same time, the APRA data shows private health insurance profits before tax increased 14 per cent over the past 12 months from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion.

This is despite the price of medical devices paid by private health insurers dropping by up to 38 per cent in the past 3 years thanks to government reforms, including another round of recent price cuts on 1 February 2020 for technology treating heart and lung disease, diabetes, bone cancer, severe arthritis and eye trauma.

“It’s clear private health insurers would rather drop customers than drop their prices and profits,” Mr Burgess said.

“Private health insurance premiums have grown faster than national house prices over the past decade.

“It’s a safe bet that the first private health insurer whose premiums go below zero will increase their market share overnight.

“Surely that’s a better investment than health funds spending more on marketing to squabble over fewer customers?

“Private health insurers haven’t paid one extra cent for medical devices over the past two premium years, despite raising premiums twice-inflation and banking nearly $1 billion in profits between the big corporate health funds.

“The number of Australians dropping out of private health insurance is quickly snowballing into an avalanche and it’s time for government to step in and save private health from itself.”

A recent Alpha Beta report identified $1 billion worth of efficiencies that could reduce private health prices by up to 20 per cent within 3 years if government adopted them now.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reference Pricing – Does It Add Up?


  • Why does it matter? The private health insurance (PHI) industry has been actively lobbying the government to cut the costs of premiums, which has resulted in benefits and choice being slashed for hard working Australian families. A tactic of the PHI industry is to try to focus as much blame, for the high premiums they charge, onto others, including medical technology innovators.
  • What is their argument? The PHI industry believes the cost of medical devices, as well as keeping vulnerable people who are suffering from a mental health condition in hospital too long, is causing premiums to rise. The PHI industry also wants the government to implement ‘international reference pricing’ to further cut into the prices of medical devices in Australia.

This is where the ‘apple and oranges’ comparison comes into play. Let’s explain: Like any product or service, the price for medical devices can vary from one country to another. Just as the price of a Toyota Sedan in Texas might be different from the price of a Toyota Sedan in Sydney or Adelaide.

  • What causes the difference in price? The price difference can be attributed to several factors, including:
    • Differences in healthcare systems;
    • Differences in purchasing arrangements and market segmentation;
    • Differences in price/benefit determination;
    • Differences in volumes of devices being used;
    • Differences in the level of technical manufacturer support needed;
    • Geographical differences; and
    • Economic difference.

Now despite all these difference that can affect price, the total PHI spend on medical devices is just 10%. Thanks to, what is called, the Prostheses List (PL), Australians can access innovative and leading medical devices, giving them certainty of access and cost (currently nil) to a wide range of prostheses.

KEY INSIGHTS: Comparisons across different markets will result in PL benefit adjustments that could reduce patients’ access to devices recommended by their physicians and force patients to pay more for the same products.

  • The Productivity Commission released a report in 2001 relating to international price comparisons of pharmaceuticals which said:It’s difficult to identify robust specific explanations for the observed bilateral price differences. Rather, the price differences are probably due to a combination of influences, including systemic differences in health systems…”


APRA joins calls for independent inquiry into private health insurance sector

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The prudential regulator has backed calls made by the ALP and others for an independent review of the private health insurance (PHI) sector, warning that “a new approach is urgently needed.”

He also warned of the impact on consumers, saying that “policy holders will be the first casualties, through higher premiums and reduced benefits.”

The speech, given at the Members Health Directors Professional Development Program in Sydney this week, warned that only three private health insurers would remain viable by 2022 on the current trajectory, with “too many PHIs seemingly waiting for the Government to find a miracle cure”.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia welcomed the comments from Mr Summerhayes.

“When its own regulator says a new approach is “urgently needed” it is time for the Federal Government to bite the bullet and launch a thorough inquiry into private health insurance,” said CHF CEO Leanne Wells.

Medical Technology Association of Australia CEO Ian Burgess said it was proof insurers would rather “destroy their own products than lower premiums using their own profits”.

“The only way to stop private health’s death spiral is to stop the exodus of customers. The only way to do that is force the ‘Big 4’ insurers to drop their premiums below zero,” Mr Burgess said.

“Private health insurers are self-destructing and the government must step in and save private health from itself.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Poorly written standards perpetuate questionable medical equipment repair practices in health facilities

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The picture in Figure 1 shows a “repaired” endoscope by a hospital contractor hired to repair medical equipment. In order to repair the tip of this endoscope the repairer used an adhesive with a softer consistency than that specified by the original manufacturer. Instead of achieving a smooth surface, the poor quality of the adhesive and workmanship resulted in cracks and pin holes left at the bonding site. Cracks and pin holes are notoriously difficult to clean and sterilise. The tip of this “repaired” endoscope becomes a cross-contamination hazard.

Representatives of businesses selling repairs of medical equipment and maintenance-related services to hospitals are quick to point to standards such as AS/NZS 3551 and AS/NZS 2500 as the “bible” of clinical engineering. Both standards were written by these vested interests with little or no input from other stakeholders such as MedTech industry or consumer groups.

For example, AS/NZS 3551 Management program for medical equipment contains aspirational, conveniently vague statements such as: “modification shall not reduce the safety of medical equipment or accessories for patients, operators or the environment”, but fails to provide specifics on requirements for repairs and modifications performed by or on behalf of health facilities, i.e.:

  • repaired medical equipment must continue to meet the safety and performance specifications as defined by the original manufacturer;
  • modified medical equipment must comply with all applicable Essential Principles of safety and performance defined in the Australian Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

AS/NZS 3551 and AS/NZS 2500 are long overdue for a substantial revision to align them with international standards and best practices, such as these IEC and ISO standards:

  • IEC 62353:2014 Medical electrical equipment – Recurrent test and test after repair of medical electrical equipment;
  • ISO 55001:2014 Asset management – Management systems;
  • IEC 60601-1:2012 Medical electrical equipment – Part 1: General requirements for basic safety and e performance. This international standard has already been adopted as an Australian & New Zealand standard: AS/NZS IEC 60601.1:2015.

The World Health Organisation has also published a series of guides for the management of resources in healthcare. In the WHO Guide 5 How to Organize the Maintenance of Your Healthcare Technology, the authors state:

The quality and effectiveness of a repair job is often jeopardized by the use of low quality parts and materials. Poor parts and materials may break if they are not strong enough, they may fail earlier than expected, or they may rub, corrode, or in some way damage other parts of the machine. Even if you do a first class repair job:

  • poor quality engine oil means the engine will not last as long as it should
  • poor quality batteries affect the performance of the equipment, have a short life, and leak
  • poor tyres compromise the safety of a vehicle
  • poor quality solder evaporates or cracks easily
  • poor gaskets and seals leak, or perish quickly.

Cost and quality often go together. Equipment manufacturers’ own brand of spare parts and maintenance materials often produce better results than ‘lookalikes’. Many companies are set up solely for the purpose of manufacturing lookalikes – these products are often (but not always) cheaper, but may be of inferior quality. We recommend that, as the items get more technically complex or critical, you should try and buy better quality spare parts and maintenance materials. A discussion on sourcing and obtaining good quality products can be found in Guide 3 on procurement and commissioning.

The TGA has no jurisdiction over repairs and modifications to medical equipment taking place in health facilities. Original manufacturers have no say on what happens to their equipment once it is purchased and put into service by health facilities. There is a need for appropriate regulatory oversight and better standards to address repairs and modifications of medical equipment performed by health facilities or on their behalf. Patient safety should always come first.



This week the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, and Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, announced the retirement of Secretary for Health, Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM.

Replacing Ms Beauchamp will be the nation’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy. While the announcement may have come as a surprise to some within the health sector, close observers will recall media reports that the Government’s overhaul of the public service included six Department Heads to be moved on. The Government ended up announcing five Department Heads would be moved on, leaving the sixth and last undisclosed.

Ms Beauchamp leaves behind a distinguished public service career spanning more than 30 years, including nine years at Secretary level, as well as 12 years in the ACT public service. In 2010, Ms Beauchamp received the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service forcoordinating the Commonwealth’s response to the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Secretary-designate, Professor Brendan Murphy, will be the first medical doctor to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health in its nearly 100-year history.

In his current role as the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Murphy is responsible for the Office of Health Protection and Health Workforce Division. He is currently coordinating Australia’s response to the rapidly growing threat posed by the coronavirus and the health-orientated response to the bushfire disaster. Professor Murphy has held this role since his appointment in 2016 by former Secretary of Health, Mr Martin Bowles AO PSM.

Professor Murphy also serves as Australia’s Member for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) Governing Committee and represents Australia at the World Health Assembly.

Prior to his appointment, Professor Murphy was the Chief Executive Officer of Austin Health in Victoria.

Professor Murphy is a Professor at the University of Melbourne and holds the title of Adjunct Professor at Monash University. Professor Murphy is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Professor Murphy previously served as the Chief Medical Officer and Director of Nephrology at St Vincent’s Health and sat on the Boards of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Professor Murphy also served as the Independent Chair of Health Services Innovation Australia and is a former President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology and former Deputy Chair of Health Workforce Australia.

Since joining the Department of Health in 2016 as the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Murphy has been active in tackling key issues facing the health sector and in particular within the pharmaceutical sector. Most notably, Professor Murphy used his position to tackle the overprescribing of opioids by sending out warning letters to 4,800 GPs found to be prescribing opioids excessively.

Professor Murphy was criticised by some GPs for his direct and blunt approach to the opioid issue and it remains to be seen if Professor Murphy will continue a similar approach as Secretary of the Department of Health.

Throughout his tenure in the Public Service, Professor Murphy has enjoyed bipartisan support in his 40-year involvement in the health sector.