The AIHW was established as a Commonwealth statutory authority in 1987 as the Australian Institute of Health. Its composition, functions and powers in the analysis, reporting and dissemination of the nation’s health-related information and statistics were set out in its enabling legislation, the Australian Institute of Health Act 1987.
In 1992, its role was expanded to include welfare-related information and statistics, and the organisation was renamed the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The amended Act became the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Act 1987 (AIHW Act).
The Institute’s functions are prescribed in section 5 of the AIHW Act. In summary, these are to:
collect and produce health- and welfare-related information and statistics, and assist other bodies in these tasks
develop methods and undertake studies designed to assess the provision, use, cost and effectiveness of health services and health technologies
conduct and promote research into the health of the people of Australia develop specialised statistical standards and classifications relevant to health and welfare services
enable researchers to have access to health- and welfare-related information and statistics held by the Institute or by bodies with which the AIHW has contracts or arrangements
publish methodological and substantive reports on work carried out by the Institute
make recommendations to the Minister on the prevention and treatment of diseases and the improvement and promotion of the health and health awareness of the people.
The AIHW Act requires the AIHW to place information in the public domain; it also contains a strict confidentiality provision. Section 29 of the Act prohibits the release of documents and/or information ‘concerning a person’ held by the AIHW other than in compliance with any written terms and conditions imposed by the data provider.
As a Commonwealth entity, we are also subject to the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act), which imposes strict obligations in relation to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. Hence, the data in our care are protected by 2 sets of obligations: those contained in the AIHW Act and those in the Privacy Act.
In certain circumstances, the AIHW Ethics Committee may authorise the release of personal information for medical research that would otherwise constitute a breach of an Australian Privacy Principle in the Privacy Act.
Amendments to the AIHW Act
The amended AIHW Act commenced on 27 November 2018 which implemented the recommendations of the independent review of the AIHW undertaken in 2015. These amendments streamlined AIHW governance and administration:
Established a board of up to 12 members who have a collective range of skills to ensure effective strategic governance. This amendment replaced the representative nature of the previous board structure where members were aligned to a single specific criterion in the Act.
Members are appointed by the Minister for Health instead of the Governor General. This change is consistent with similar organisations and provides greater administrative efficiency for appointments, resignations or terminations.
The title of the head of the AIHW changed to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in line with other similar government agencies. The previous title of Director was ambiguous as it can be associated with a range of different positions in government.
The CEO is appointed by the board to provide a clearer line of accountability. Previously, the CEO (Director) was appointed by the Minister for Health.
The AIHW needs to consult with the ABS to collect health and welfare information. Previously the ABS’s approval was needed which imposed an unnecessary administrative requirement.
The AIHW no longer needs to seek the approval of the Minister to enter contracts above a prescribed amount.
Accountability to the Minister and Parliament
The AIHW Board is accountable to the Parliament of Australia through the Minister for Health. It informs the minister of its activities as required by the AIHW Act and the PGPA Act.
The Minister for Health—and other relevant ministers in the Australian Government and state and territory governments—have early access to our products under embargo arrangements.
Senior AIHW staff may also be required to attend Senate estimates hearings as part of the Health portfolio. In 2018–19, the CEO appeared as a witness at the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs additional estimates hearings on 20 February 2019.
No Ministerial directions under section 7 of the AIHW Act were received in 2018–19.
Government policy orders
No government policy orders under section 22 of the PGPA Act were applied to the AIHW in 2018–19.