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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 October 2012: Medibank health deal for Defence personnel

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Shadow Minister for Defence I Senator for Western Australia





I wanted to raise an issue with respect to the service provisions by Medibank Private for all Defence services. We have been approached by a very large number of medical specialists and anaesthetist saying that the rate on offer to medicos to provide ADF personnel with specialist services, particularly in orthopaedics are so far below what is normally paid that they will not be providing these services.

Now, this also extends across the board to psychology and psychiatry and we are very very concerned that what is happening is that ADF personnel will be getting a second rate service.

(INAUDABLE) But we had the best orthopaedic surgeons providing service to those for example that had been inside Bushmasters who have got severely damaged elbows and knees, they are being worked upon by very highly esteemed specialist orthopaedic surgeons to repair those.

Now the peak bodies are telling us that these rates are half the AMA rates and what we are seeing is (INADUBILE) we have a requirement for people that are (INAUDIBLE) given a leg to stand on and this is unacceptable.

Of significant concern at the recent Senate estimates the Surgeon General was particularly (INAUDIBLE) the fact that the Defence Force is not oversighting the service. Recently a well known Brisbane orthopaedic surgeon has said to me “Look

these rates are half the AMA rates, recently I was asked by the Immigration Department to do some work on an asylum seeker from Christmas Island at the full AMA rate”. So what we have is the service level being provided to those operating on those returning from Afghanistan are getting an allowance that is less than what we are giving to asylum seekers to do this work.

This is completely unacceptable; this is another example of this incompetent government seeking to modify a service where ADF personnel are receiving less than they were. Now I am very concerned about this, I think the Minister needs to explain how he is going to guarantee proper and adequate, high quality orthopaedic, anaesthetist, psychology and psychiatrist services to ADF personnel given that now we have hand-balled the whole responsibility to a single service provider whose schedule of rates is far and below what has been the norm. I am very concerned.

JOURNALIST - question inaudible

Well not in circumstances where the choices of medico is determined by a non-medical person. There are also a huge number of problems surrounding medical records. I am really concerned that if I am a soldier and I have got a smashed up arm or leg, the person that has been doing the work - in some cases for more that 10 years - who is a very highly reputed specialists, as is required, isn’t going to do the work for me anymore, and I am going to have some registrar or someone else at a much lesser rate. Common sense tells me that we are giving our people less of a service.

JOURNALIST: Senator would you change the rates in government?

It is a very simple correction. You simply amend the rates such as the rates are as they were. Bear in mind that we were told in Senate Estimates that this is not a savings measure. The Surgeon General was very clear this is not a savings measure - why would you lower the standards to personnel coming back from combat if it is not saving any money?

I think this is counter productive, we are throwing the baby out with the bath water and I for one won't have a bar of it.

JOURNALIST: So wouldn’t that basically do away with all the savings, they are only saving about $100 million with this contract, putting the rates up to whatever the doctors wanted seems to defeat the purpose of the contact.

Precisely, I don’t understand why we are doing this. Is it about the fact we can’t administer it properly? If there is no savings why are the rates being lowered, who is getting the benefit of that? Is it Medibank Private? I know that Medibank Privates’ dividends to government have been substantial in the last two years, is there something in that? All I am really concerned about is the level of service to our personnel; when they are serious injured they get the best surgeons to do the reparations upon them.

JOURNALIST: Senator, just briefly back on the medical issue with the ADF. The suggestion from some people, including David Hurley, during estimates last week is that the Coalition ….undermines the negotiation process and some of the specialists…….how do you maintain confidence that that isn’t the case?

If you look very closely and carefully at what was said at Senate estimates the Defence Department has simply contracted the supply of medical services and has not investigated or oversighted the standard or scheduled rates that will be applied to those services.

The contract is between the medical service providers and the medical service agent or contractor (namely Medibank Private). Defence has said you handle the whole thing. Now I am really concerned that that lack of oversight, that handing of responsibility across to Medibank Private is going to allow them to deliver less of a service than Defence personnel have been receiving in the past.

Now if that is undermining a contractual relationship, bearing in mind this is $1.3 billion worth of contract, if that is undermining anything so be it.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison suggested today that we should be sending a customs or naval vessels beyond our territorial waters to intercept a Sri Lankan vessel that might have been accused of piracy. Is that a big logistical exercise sending our vessel out beyond our territorial waters?

Yes it is, and for some long time many of us on our side of the debate have been very concerned by the “sea-gap” between Christmas Island and Sri Lanka. We have had information from Sri Lanka that a number of boats have been leaving never to be seen or heard of ever again. We think that surveillance of that area particularly is a very important responsibility of Canberra. That is why our policy has incorporates the ISR platform known as Global Hawk so we can bring some real time coverage as to what is happening out there back to Australia. That way we can have a better understanding of what is actually going on out and beyond our economic zone.