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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1033

Senator ROBERT RAY —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen Press reports of divisions in the ranks of procedural specialists in New South Wales as a result of the Government's offer to the Australian Medical Association? What action will the Government take to ensure that those doctors who put their pockets before their patients will comply with the latest offer?

Senator GRIMES —As Senator Robert Ray says, there have been reports today in the Press of divisions in the ranks of procedural specialists in New South Wales. This is not surprising in the light of the actions taken by Dr Shepherd and Dr Aroney in recent weeks since the offer was made by the Government-and, in fact, accepted by the AMA. I, like most other members of parliament and, I believe, most other doctors, expect that the plebiscite which is being held by the AMA will result in doctors generally accepting this offer. One certainly hopes so. The division is a very real one. One does not learn about it only through the Press; one learns about it also from personal conversations with members of the medical profession, particularly those in the teaching hospitals and especially, of course, those salaried specialists who view with despair the attitude taken by Dr Shepherd and Dr Aroney, who seem to be trying at the moment to turn avarice into a fine art in their urgent efforts to get more and more money.

I think what has happened as a result of the latest statements by these gentlemen is that it is now perfectly clear that this dispute is about money and money going to the pockets of a certain group of doctors. When the agreement between the Government and the AMA was first announced, Dr Shepherd's first public comment was: 'There is only $16m in it for us'. That, of course, reflects the relative values of Dr Shepherd and Dr Aroney who, in proposals to me, suggested an increase in government expenditure of $1,000m to satisfy their demands. It seems certain that the country doctors in New South Wales and many of those in the peripheral hospitals in Sydney will accept the offer and return to work. But only if the New South Wales hospitals return to normal will the Government agree to fulfil all the conditions that are contained in the offer that we made.

The simple fact is that no government can allow a small group of individuals-a group of individuals who were trained initially at public expense and who trained for their specialities at public expense in public hospitals-to hold the health system to ransom and to treat patients in the way in which they have treated them, by neglecting them and by refusing to treat them. Dr Shepherd, of course, has said that this dispute is worth a life, that it is war and that people must die. That is the reason why Dr Thompson from the AMA has described Dr Shepherd and Dr Aroney as having forgotten the principles of their Hippocratic oath. They not only seem obsessed with money; they seem obsessed with other things. Dr Shepherd said that the only thing this Government understands is someone standing with one foot on their throats and the other kicking their private parts. Dr Aroney said yesterday that the only principle he understood was the famous one-that if one has people by the private parts, their hearts and minds will follow. They are starting to talk not only like a couple of greedy, miserly people but also as though their basic textbook is Psychopathia Sexualis.

I think it is about time that this dispute was over. The New South Wales Government will inform the Federal Government when New South Wales hospitals are again treating patients properly. When that occurs the offer will be taken up. Further negotiations on sessional fees can occur. I believe that the vast majority of responsible doctors in New South Wales will realise they have been misled by these two pseudo politicians. They have not only been misled but also the reputation of the whole medical profession is suffering. I believe that cannot be tolerated by government. I believe it will not be tolerated by the general community.

Obviously, if the worst happens and doctors refuse to go back, we will have to take further steps. Other than the steps that have already been announced by the New South Wales Government, which has said quite clearly that it will have to replace doctors in the hospitals if necessary by advertising overseas, I am not in a position at the moment to announce what further actions we will take. But people can rest assured that the New South Wales hospital system and the patients will not be left to suffer in the way in which they have by this irresponsible action.