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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7957


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:49): In the limited amount of time that I suspect is left in this section, in respect of the government response to the Community Affairs References Committee report Medical complaints process in Australia, I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I chaired that inquiry. It was, I thought, an important inquiry. I will just remind the chamber that it related to, and brought to light a lot of detail surrounding, workplace bullying and harassment for the medical profession, and, in particular, the medical complaints process in Australia. That's what this was particularly focused on.

The committee heard about the bullying of some of our medical students that has been going on. We heard some quite poignant accounts of some of the bullying and harassment that some of the medical students have felt—in particular, female medical students—and we heard some pretty significant and compelling evidence of people's very awful experiences in our training facilities, unfortunately. We also heard how some of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students had felt bullied and harassed through their experiences. We also heard from medical practitioners who have been going through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency processes of medical complaints, and we heard, again, some pretty compelling evidence—certainly, people felt bullied and harassed through that process.

We made a number of recommendations, to which the government has responded. And, for once, I can stand in this place and say: the government has supported most of our recommendations. Our first recommendation was:

… that all parties with responsibility for addressing bullying and harassment in the medical profession, including governments, hospitals, speciality colleges and universities:

acknowledge that bullying and harassment remains prevalent within the profession, to the detriment of individual practitioners and patients alike;

recognise that working together and addressing these issues in a collaborative way is the only solution; and

commit to ongoing and sustained action and resources to eliminate these behaviours.

The government supports this recommendation, which is great. We also recommended that all universities adopt a curriculum that incorporates compulsory education on bullying and harassment.

Recommendation 3 was:

… that all universities accept responsibility for their students while they are on placement and further adopt a procedure for dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment made by their students while on placement. This procedure should be clearly defined and a written copy provided to students prior to their placement commencing.

The government supports both of those recommendations. They note that the actions are required by the university and organisations that provide the clinical placements. It is the same as with recommendation 1: they are saying it is the responsibility of those institutions, which is right, but it's good to have government behind those recommendations and reinforcing them with the institutions. But, as to this issue around having the universities accept responsibility for their students while on placement, it has been while these students have been on placement that some of this harassment and bullying has occurred, and they haven't really known who to complain to. The hospitals say they are not theirs, and the universities say, 'Well, you're on placement,' so it's very unclear how they can take action.

Our fourth recommendation was:

… that all hospitals review their codes of conduct to ensure that they contain a provision that specifically states that bullying and harassment in the workplace is strictly not tolerated towards hospital staff, students and volunteers.

We've heard a lot about this over the years in the media, where hospitals say they are taking action and other organisations, such as the specialty colleges, say they are going to take action. Unfortunately, the evidence we received shows that this is still happening. So this sort of recommendation is really important, and it's really important that it's taken on board by these organisations and that hospitals, in particular, review their codes of conduct. The government again supports this. I urge the government and the departments to take this up with the hospitals.

Recommendation 5 is:

… that all specialist training colleges publicly release an annual report detailing how many complaints of bullying and harassment their members and trainees have been subject to and how many sanctions the college has imposed as a result of those complaints.

This is actually really, really important as well. It's really important that these reports are published so that these institutions are transparent and accountable. I am hoping that, in the future, if all of these recommendations are implemented, we will see a decrease in this harassment.

Our sixth recommendation is the only recommendation that the government didn't support, and that is:

The committee recommends that a new inquiry be established with terms of reference to address the following matters:

the implementation of the current complaints system under the National Law, including role of AHPRA and the National Boards;

whether the existing regulatory framework, established by the National Law, contains adequate provision for addressing medical complaints …

During this inquiry, we got a number of submissions from health professionals and practitioners that did not specifically relate to the terms of reference, so we felt very strongly that we needed another inquiry. The government didn't support this recommendation. The Senate obviously agreed with us because, in fact, they did support our referral of this to an inquiry. So it's a pretty pointless response from the government, because we actually held the inquiry and we got some very compelling evidence around some issues that do need to be addressed that are in another committee report. So I am making the point here that whilst the government did not support us having another inquiry, as I have just outlined, the Senate did refer it to the committee. The committee has already reported and we found, as I said, some pretty significant issues and made some recommendations, which I hope the government does look favourably on.

I hope I will again be in this place speaking favourably about how the government has supported some of the committee's recommendations for improvement in the process because no system is perfect. This one certainly hasn't been. It has caused distress. There have been issues raised. There are a number of practitioners who feel strongly that they have been bullied and harassed through the process. So I urge the government to look on the committee's subsequent report to the inquiry the government didn't want us to do, which we did anyway. I encourage the government to look at those recommendations carefully and support those the same way they supported these. I urge the government to work with these institutions and encourage these institutions to take up the recommendations that we made in this report, which they support. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.