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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 984


Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Has the Minister seen an article on the front page of this morning's Canberra Times carrying a reply by the President-elect of the Canberra branch of the Australian Medical Association, Dr David McNicol, to comments made in the Senate yesterday by the Minister for Finance during Question Time in relation to the Australian Capital Territory doctors dispute over Medicare. Can the Minister clarify whether the figures that he used yesterday were, as Dr McNicol alleges, `disastrously wrong'?


Senator WALSH —Yes, I have indeed seen the article. Assuming that it is a fair and accurate report of what Dr McNicol said, I hope that Dr McNicol's medicine is better than his arithmetic, although those of us who are familiar with the Hird case might put some doubts upon that.


Senator Chaney —I take a point of order, Mr President. I know that there is nothing in the Standing Orders that protects private citizens against abuse, but I simply ask you to exercise some control over a Minister who has the benefit of parliamentary privilege and who uses it with gay abandon. The incapacity of this Minister to answer a question without slamming at a personal level the people who ever dare to disagree with this Government is a matter that is bringing this chamber into total disrepute. Whilst I acknowledge that the Standing Orders provide no protection for the citizen, I ask you, Mr President, to exercise some control in the name of decency.


The PRESIDENT —No point of order arises. The Minister can answer the question in whatever way he sees fit. But I would hope that he would take no notice of the remarks that were made. I call Senator Walsh.


Senator WALSH —I note for the record that I find it a little bit too much to be lectured about propriety by one of the thugs who participated in the misuse of the power of this Senate in 1975.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walsh, I ask you to withdraw that remark.


Senator WALSH —I withdraw the reference to thugs. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Senator Chaney and Senator Peter Baume, who was jumping to his feet, were two of the people who took advantage of a Senate which had been corrupted by the actions of the Queensland Government. They were quite happy to enter into a coalition with the Premier of Queensland to corrupt the Senate.


Senator Jessop —I rise on a point of order. I regard the Minister as being quite out of order because he is not answering the question that was put to him. I suggest that he be brought to order or sat down and shut up.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister has finished answering the question.


Senator Gareth Evans —He hasn't got to it yet.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Walsh, I ask you to answer the question as quickly as possible.


Senator WALSH —Obviously the Opposition does not want to hear the answer. The present cost to the taxpayers of Australia of the Medicare arrangements for the services provided by private practitioners in the Australian Capital Territory is $4m. If the claim submitted by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the Australian Medical Association were granted, that cost would rise to $7.5m-an increase of nearly 100 per cent. The Government has offered an increase of 21 per cent, which has been rejected by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the AMA. It is insisting that the fee for service be based on the AMA schedule, that there be a 50 per cent penalty rate for shift work or, more accurately, for work performed between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.-a 50 per cent loading for that quasi shift work-and $180 a day roster money for not necessarily doing anything at all except sitting at home waiting for the telephone to ring. If there were a call between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., there would be a 50 per cent penalty loading for doing the work at that time. Alternatively, if they sat at home and did nothing at all, they would receive $180 a day for it.

The doctors union in the Australian Capital Territory is after an increase of nearly 100 per cent in total income, compared with the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union of Australia which is seeking about 25 per cent, for which it has been vigorously denounced by Mr Willis and I believe by a number of people on the Opposition side. But the Opposition is very selective with its indignation. It is very happy to denounce George Crawford and the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union but it will not say a word about the doctors union, which is pursuing a pay claim almost four times as great as that being pursued by George Crawford and the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union.

If one looks at the effect of the doctors union's pay claim on the doctors, if the attempt to almost double the remuneration they receive for the services they provide succeeded, each doctor would receive on average an additional $22,000. Bear in mind that that is not their total income; they derive part of their income from treating Medicare patients and part of it from treating their private patients. I am not in a position, at least at this stage, to know the relativities of the two, but we do know that if the doctors union's outrageous pay claim were granted doctors' incomes from the Medicare portion of their total income would increase on average by $22,000.

I note that the Opposition is mute. The Opposition has not a word to say about an attempt by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union to rob the Treasury, and for each doctor to walk away with an extra $22,000 a year in his hip pocket. There is not a word from the Opposition about that. This is the Opposition which talks about a wages freeze for ordinary people who do not even have a total income of $22,000 a year, and an increase of $22,000 for the members of the doctors union. The humbuggery of people like Dr Shepherd, who associates himself with the Australian Federation of Employers, while simultaneously backing claims--


Senator Chaney —I rise on a point of order. Clearly the Minister is debating the question and he should be brought to order.


The PRESIDENT —The Minister is clearly debating the question at the moment. I call Senator Hill.