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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2190

Senator SHEIL —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Is it a fact that the Minister has been involved in negotiations with the Australian Medical Association and others over doctors' awards and arrangements in the veterans' general hospital system? The Minister will be aware that contracts with visiting medical officers expired at midnight last night. As any collapse of service in the veterans' general hospital system will soon place impossible demands on the overall hospital system, will he advise the Senate of the exact position at this time? Will he ensure that the current crisis in our hospitals is not further exacerbated?

Senator GIETZELT —I thank Senator Sheil for the question. I was hoping that I would get such a question so that I would have the opportunity of allaying the concern that I am sure the veteran community and members of parliament would have about the suggestion that doctors would be withdrawing their services in the six repatriation hospitals as from 1 May, which is today. The fact is, as I was advised before Question Time by the Secretary to my Department, that that situation has not developed. In fact, the overwhelming majority of specialists who attend our repatriation hospitals did turn up for work this morning and are allowing negotiations to continue. That was a spontaneous matter in every State; it was not specifically organised. It enables me to continue personally on Monday next, with a representative of the Australian Medical Association, to work towards a resolution of the conflict over fees which has been with us for a considerable period.

I think Senator Sheil in particular would be aware of the fact that in his State the State Government has offered a sessional fee of $67 for doctors in the State hospital system. I am anxious to move in unison with the States in respect of the fees that will be paid. We have made an offer to the doctors, who I believe are mature enough and responsible enough to see that that is a fair proposal. Whatever the fee may be in the respective States-fees vary very considerably from State to State-we will match the fee a State is able to offer and, therefore, there will be no difference between what the State pays and what the Commonwealth pays through the repatriation system.

I applaud the fact that the doctors have turned up to work this morning and are looking after the patients in the repatriation hospitals. They are clearly not yet prepared to withdraw their services, as has been suggested by one or two hotheads in the medical profession.