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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1278

Senator ELLISON (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Given that the minister’s own department’s review of the qualifications and work experience of overseas trained doctors has found gaps that were of concern in the history of some doctors, will the minister commit to continuing the review and reject reports that the review is being shelved?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for his question. It is good to get an immigration question from him.

Senator Johnston —It would be good to get an answer.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —If you desist from interjecting, you will get an answer.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —When you are ready. In terms of the question about the inquiry ordered by the former minister, Mr Andrews, I am informed that at his request the department did a small survey—

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I think of just over 100 cases, Senator Abetz—on the issue surrounding the foreign doctors who had come into Australia. I understand, following that survey, they reported to then Minister Andrews on the outcome of that survey. I also understand from recent briefing that he actually did not respond to that, because the report came up, as I understand it, at the start of the caretaker period, and the brief was not formally responded to by him. But, certainly, as a result of the review initiated by Mr Andrews, the department sought to consult with the various states about the regulation of doctors, their conditions and their experiences. There has been, as I understand it, toing and froing between the states and the Commonwealth about the management of these issues. Immigration obviously has responsibilities for the visas and those sorts of things; the question is the interaction between the state governments, the immigration department and particularly medical registration boards, which are responsible for the registration of the qualifications of doctors in order to practise inside Australia.

I understand there were issues and concerns raised as a result of this interaction. I have asked the department to brief me on the progress of those matters, and I intend on listing that matter on the agenda when I meet with state ministers, because there are a range of issues that have emerged, including state claims to privacy over the records of doctors et cetera. I am very keen to see if we cannot progress this matter. Clearly, though, there are issues of privacy. There are questions of registration. I think it is appropriate that the medical registration boards in each state continue to take responsibility for checking the qualifications of doctors. I do not see that as being Immigration’s core business, but we do need to be satisfied that those proper checks have occurred.

As you are aware, foreign doctors are essential for the provision of health services in this country. Due to the failure to train enough of our own doctors in recent years, we have severe shortages. All senators would be aware that we have large numbers of foreign trained doctors operating inside Australia. Obviously, there has been some concern, particularly in Queensland over the Dr Patel incident, but I can assure the senator that I intend to pursue the issues that the former minister first raised, one of which is to make sure we have integrity in the system in relation to overseas medical practitioners brought into this country. A lot of that involves better coordination between the states, the medical boards and the department of immigration.

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of what the minister has said, can he now give an assurance that he has total confidence in the history and qualifications of overseas trained doctors in this country? If he cannot give that assurance then can he say what he is going to do to make sure that he can give that assurance, having regard to the fact that it is his department that gives these visas to overseas trained doctors?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The buck may well stop with me, but I would point out that the vast majority of doctors now practising in this country who came from overseas were approved under the previous government, so I would take any assurance from Senator Ellison that he has complete confidence that all those doctors came in and were legitimately registered in this country. As I indicated to him, some concerns were raised about the proper processes as a result of the review that occurred. There has been consultation with the states. I have asked the department to provide me with a briefing, which I have not received, on the progress of those matters. And I will pursue with the states—

Senator Abetz —So you’re having a review into the review?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Well, Senator, the former minister did not respond to the previous review. I have taken up the issue, I will raise it with the state governments and we will continue to pursue best policy.