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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4927

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (17:39): I too would just like to add my brief comments on this report, Lost in the labyrinth. I would like to commence where the member for Robertson finished and acknowledge the work of the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing. I have to say that the work that I do on the health and ageing committee is one of the highlights of my time in this place. I acknowledge the fellow members and also the leadership of the member for Hindmarsh and our deputy chair, because we were focusing on issues that cross the political spectrum. They generally cross the city-country divide and generally are far more complex than would originally be seen from the outside.

Let me say at the outset that I think that, when we are dealing with medical professionals and we are looking at the services to provide to the Australian public, we do have to set a standard. We do need to make sure that we screen people who do not have the technical ability, the cultural ability or the language skills to undertake these jobs. This report is not about opening the doors up to anyone that might want to come and practise medicine in Australia, but what it has done is highlight a number of roadblocks that have blocked people not only in the initial stages but also later. I think it was in Brisbane that there was a doctor who was practicing in the Ipswich area who had been in the country since the mid-eighties and at one stage found himself six days from deportation because of a technicality in the paperwork. He had been here close on 30 years practising and had a loyal group of patients in his practice west of Brisbane and was on the verge of being deported.

If there is one thing that I think I would like to highlight in this report, I think the one thing we should take out of it is to straighten out the kinks and put in a genuine road map for people to come through. That is what we found, whether it was medical practitioners that were coming in as general practitioners or others that were highly specialised surgeons, anaesthetists or cardiologists, a whole range of people who were highly specialised in their own country. They came from English-speaking countries, but because of the process in place—I might say because of the self interest of some of the colleges—they were finding incredible hindrances and roadblocks put in place. That is what we need to overcome. We had people coming into this country who were leaders in their field, but those skills were not being utilised in this process.

So there needs to be a genuine pathway. The information needs to be upfront and easy to follow so that as the applicants go through the process there is a clear pathway for them to get through. We found people that had been sidelined in the process, in things like the language test. There are four parts to the language test and, if you failed one of those, you had to redo the test. The next time you did the retest, if you failed another part that you actually passed the first time, that was considered a fail. So we had some people who had been going for this test many, many times, and I would suspect that many people that were actually born and educated in Australia may have trouble with some of the issues in the written part of the test or the comprehension. But they were being blocked. There was quite a bit of inconvenience and cost. Some of the GPs from country areas who would be called in to undertake some of the testing process were given very little time to prepare and were forced to cover large distances, and every time they did not quite make the bar they were up for considerable cost. The point I highlight is that we need a clear pathway. We need to assist these people through the process. We need to make it open and transparent. We need to make sure we do not lower our standards, that we have people coming in who are suitably qualified to practise medicine in this country, and we need to be of assistance. Not only do the government departments have a role to play in this but the colleges also need to enter into the spirit of cooperation, rather than putting up blocks and looking after their own self-interests. Unfortunately, that came through on several occasions during the hearings we were undertaking.

In closing, I support this report. I believe this will be a valuable tool for governments of the future and the present to sort out this problem. The reality is—and the member for Robertson spoke about our young medical graduates coming through from Australian universities—in a large number of cases it is overseas trained doctors who are training these young students, residents and registrars through the system. They are the ones who are overseeing the training process as our own home-grown people come through. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have everything in place to make that as efficient and as painless as possible. I fully endorse the report.