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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1480

Mr LANGMORE —Can the Minister for Territories comment on the advertisements placed in the Canberra Times by Australian Capital Territory doctors over the last few days? In addition, can the Minister comment on claims made in an article in today's Canberra Times that, on average, doctors' incomes from fees which would attract Medicare benefits and the treatment of Medicare hospital patients have risen from $124,873 to $152,048 in a period of two and a half years?

Mr SCHOLES —I cannot comment but I can give information to the House on the current state of the dispute with doctors in respect of the treatment of Medicare patients in Canberra hospitals. I think I should first inform the House that the claims which were made by the doctors, and which have been subject to negotiation between the Australian Capital Territory Health Authority and the Australian Medical Association and representatives of some of the specialty unions within the medical profession, have been taking place since September last year. They were based at all times on a fee for service arrangement for the medical profession in Canberra, which it has had-and insisted upon-for several years. The offer made by the Government to increase the proportion of the schedule fee which is paid in respect of each service provided was to increase that proportion from 70 per cent, under the contracts which expired a short time ago, to 85 per cent of the schedule fee fixed under the Medicare arrangements. That 85 per cent is the highest level of fee for service paid. It is higher than the proportion paid in New South Wales. It is the level paid in Victoria and represents the highest proportion of the schedule fee paid in respect of medical services under Medicare in Australia.

Canberra doctors have claimed, in addition to fee for service-which is, as I would have understood it to be, a comprehensive payment for the services provided-a range of other benefits which are associated directly with sessional payments which are paid alternatively in some areas and which were subject to massive and, I would say, unjustifiable increases by an arbitrated decision in New South Wales last year. As the honourable member said, the incomes from Government sources paid to doctors, in respect of both Medicare treatment in hospitals and payments for Medicare services under the national health arrangements, have increased in the last two years by in excess of 22 per cent and, on average, from $120,000 to $150,000. Equated with some of the salaries which are paid to leaders of the most important government organisations and the biggest organisations in Australia, that is a fairly generous remuneration. In respect of the fees for services in Canberra hospitals, which represent a portion of doctors' incomes, the proportion of the annually adjusted fee would be adjusted by 21 per cent, which is substantially higher than any adjustment made in respect of any other section of the Australian community which is dependent on government for its fees.

I believe that, given the restraint taking place in the Australian community, and the call for restraint, the medical profession is not entitled to expect that governments will exempt it from levels of sacrifice which are nowhere near as great as those being sought from other members of the Australian community. The Opposition has said that an increase of $10 for wage and salary earners is too much and should not be paid. The order of change offered to doctors in the Australian Capital Territory is equivalent, on average, to over $20,000-that is what the 21 per cent represents in this case-yet we are still told that that is insufficient. At this stage no member of the Opposition has said a word about the claims of the doctors' professions in the Australian Capital Territory. Apparently $22,000 is not too much, but $10 is.

As to the claim that I have not been prepared to discuss the matters with the doctors, I could use a crudity but I will not. The facts are that on Friday an agreement was made between the Australian Medical Association, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and me to meet on Monday evening. Subsequent to that I was asked by the AMA whether I would increase the numbers to include its entire negotiating committee. On Monday I was informed that the doctors would not be coming, and on Saturday morning advertisements were placed in the Canberra Times, as they have been on subsequent occasions, attacking me for not meeting with the doctors. I can assure the House that those advertisements were placed even before the agreement was made for a meeting to take place.

I think the doctors have to face up to the fact that there are hard economic times in Australia, that they are Australians the same as everyone else and that they are being treated by this society extremely well. They should accept what has been offered, which is extraordinarily generous and which I think, by the criteria the Opposition uses for opposing an increase to $200 per week wage earners, is too generous, and meet their obligations to the community as everyone else is asked to do.