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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 2061


Mr SNOW —Can the Minister for Territories give the Government's reaction to the latest so-called compromise proposal put forward by the Australian Medical Association to solve the current dispute with visiting medical officers in Australian Capital Territory hospitals which serve people in south-east New South Wales as well as those in the Territory?


Mr SCHOLES —I am well aware of the concern of the honourable member, and of the honourable members for the Australian Capital Territory, about the current dispute or strike by doctors in the Australian Capital Territory. It is a matter of real concern that, at a time when the whole nation is being asked to act with restraint in the incomes area, the members of the medical profession in the Australian Capital Territory have sought increases which exceed 85 per cent of their present remuneration, which, even on a moderate scale, would seem to be excessive. I am also concerned that this morning the Opposition has indicated its support for the position of the Australian Medical Association in the Australian Capital Territory and the size of the increase which it is demanding. That rings rather hollow when one remembers the position taken by the Opposition in respect of a $10 wage increase for other members of the community.

The interim proposals which have been put forward by the AMA as a means for a temporary solution while we negotiate possible higher rates of pay involve the payment to a group of specialists, namely anaesthetists, of an amount equivalent to the Macken determination in New South Wales, which the Commonwealth considers to be totally excessive and which would, for that group, result in an increase in their remuneration of 115 per cent above their present remuneration for Medicare patients. I might say that that amount has been publicly supported by the Opposition. It is proposed that in regard to fee for service, doctors receive a payment of 65 per cent of the AMA schedule. There should not be any confusion about the difference between the AMA schedule and the fixed schedule under the Commonwealth health Acts. The AMA schedule is substantially higher, and 65 per cent represents an amount which is higher than the 85 per cent offered by the Government. It is also seeking a 50 per cent after hours loading, plus $60 a day on call, for availability for call out for emergencies.

The present dispute is one in which I consider that the demands of the doctors cannot be responsibly met. I am shocked that the Opposition has publicly supported the demands for a 115 per cent increase in salary. The Opposition spokesman for Territories is reported on the front page of newspapers today as supporting a 115 per cent increase-an increase which is equivalent to an amount in excess of $1,000 a week-yet the Opposition has attacked people who have asked for a $10 a week increase. I think there are some double standards in the Opposition. The medical profession in the Australian Capital Territory is seeking from the Government a commitment which no responsible government could meet, nor can it be met without seriously jeopardising the whole incomes and wages system in Australia.

I think that in the present situation the medical profession must look at itself, examine the benefits which it has derived from the Australian community and continues to derive from the Australian community, and accept some responsibility as part of the Australian community. The Government has made an offer which is equivalent to a 21 per cent increase in payments to doctors for the care of Medicare patients. The doctors have chosen not to allow this group of people to be treated. A strike by doctors is in place. It is a strike which relates purely to money and shows no concern whatsoever for the welfare of the community. I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. I hope that the AMA will accept that it has responsibilities for the well being of this nation as well as for the well being of the community which it claims to treat.