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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2617

Senator JONES —I draw the attention of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to the current industrial dispute throughout repatriation hospitals in Australia in which doctors have taken action, firstly, to impose limitations on the after- hours transfer of patients and, secondly, to impose limitations on the admission of patients. Can the Minister inform the Senate what effects these limitations are having on the performance of services at repatriation hospitals, and what, if any, action has been taken or will be taken to resolve the current industrial dispute to allow the proper conduct of duties at repatriation hospitals?

Senator GIETZELT —It is true, as Senator Jones suggested, that currently there is a dispute affecting the medical professionals in four of the six repatriation hospitals. The matter is causing considerable concern to me and, of course, those persons who wish to be admitted as patients. The bans that have been imposed by the medicos restrict the right of patients to be admitted to hospital after hours. The doctors do have some legitimacy in their claims. There is a disparity in salaries and conditions between work in repatriation hospitals and work in the State hospitals system. However, it is rather strange that after the Government has achieved a prices and incomes accord with the trade union movement and we have seen a marked reduction in industrial disputation in the past year the doctors employed by the Department of Veterans' Affairs have seen fit to take industrial action of the type that has been put in place over the last few weeks, despite the fact that they first made their submission to the government of the day in 1982. I think it is a matter of regret that they should show such militancy affecting the welfare of aged and frail veterans who go into our repatriation hospitals.

The doctors lodged a claim for extra payment for out-of-hours duty almost two years ago, but they did not pursue it actively with my Department until March this year. That puts the dispute somewhat at difference with the guidelines upon which the conciliation and arbitration system operates. The Government has expressed concern about the obstinacy of the doctors. We appreciate that they work under difficult conditions, and they do work very well; nevertheless the industrial action they have taken is disadvantaging people in the community who ought not be disadvantaged. The matter was listed before the arbitrator, who recommended that the doctors go back to work and that an examination of their claim be undertaken. A substantial improvement to their rate of overtime pay-a figure in excess of 40 per cent-was offered. The doctors rejected that offer, so we asked for an urgent relisting of the matter before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I understand that the hearing will take place on Friday. It is hoped that in due course the doctors will accept the fact that the matter is before the Arbitration Commission and will not continue their industrial action.