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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 885

Senator POWELL —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware that the Committee of Inquiry into Medical Education and the Medical Workforce has no student representation, despite strong requests by the Australian Medical Students Association to be represented on the Committee? Will the Minister confirm that the Committee of seven will be breaking up into sub-committees and working parties, thus undermining the Minister's official excuse for rejecting the participation of medical students, which is that a committee larger than seven would be inefficient and unwieldy? Does the Minister have any rational grounds for excluding the consumers of medical education and future medical practitioners from participating in the work of this Committee? As the Committee itself cannot co-opt members and a ministerial decision is needed to expand its size, is the Minister prepared to reconsider his refusal to allow medical students a representative on the Committee?

Senator TATE —In answer to Senator Powell I refer to a brief I have. I hope she understands. The Minister for Health made his decision on the composition of the Committee after consulting with his colleague, Senator Ryan. The competing interests of sectors with an interest in medical education and the medical work force were weighed up and the Minister decided, in the interests of efficiency, that a smaller expert membership would produce better results for the inquiry than a larger and more diverse membership. I will not confirm that the Committee will break up into sub-committees because the Committee itself has not made such a decision. It is likely that some components of the Committee's work will be handled by sub-groups; however, the major deliberations and discussions on the main issues must necessarily be undertaken by the whole Committee.

Consumers of medical education-by which, one presumes, Senator Powell means medical students and future practitioners-have ample opportunity to participate. The Committee has advertised nationally for submissions from interested organisations and individuals, and many organisations have received letters advising them of the inquiry. Where submissions raise issues and views which the Committee wishes to pursue, it will also consult with the relevant bodies. The inquiry has in fact stimulated widespread interest from the community at large and the Committee has received expressions of interest from about 500 organisations and individuals, both within and without the medical fraternity.

As I said in answer to the first part of the question, in deciding the composition of the Committee the Ministers concerned considered it both unwieldy and unnecessary to have a committee consisting of representatives from every interested sector. After all, it is a committee of inquiry and its central task is to inquire into the views of the many and diverse sectors of the community with an interest in medical education and its impact on health.

Senator POWELL —I have a supplementary question. In relation to that part of the Minister's response which suggested that medical students might participate through submissions, is the Minister aware that funds which hitherto had been provided to the Australian Medical Students Association through the national community health program grants were discontinued this year and that the request of the Australian Medical Students Association for funds for research last year was refused? Does the Minister not agree that this is a classic catch-22 situation, with the students being refused membership of the Committee while being told that they could make a submission for which they do not have the research facilities because of cutbacks in Government funding?

Senator TATE —I regret that I was not aware of those facts, if they are facts. I will try to find some more detail for Senator Powell.