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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2394

Dr SOUTHCOTT (7:17 PM) —I would like to draw the attention of the House to Dr Nandor Jaross, an ophthalmologist who originally did his training in Hungary. Dr Jaross was invited to Australia by Northern Territory officials in 1987. He was offered permanent employment in Australia and he is an Australian citizen. He worked as a specialist ophthalmologist between 1988 and 1996 in the Royal Darwin Hospital, with all the duties, rights and privileges of a specialist. He carried out approximately 1,000 laser treatments and was involved in nearly 1,000 eye surgeries. He was directly responsible for supervising trainee registrars in Darwin from the time he arrived there.

He has published extensively in local and international journals and he has represented the Royal Darwin Hospital at numerous conferences overseas. His research in Aboriginal health is already having a major impact on the community's health there. He has been a member of the AMA since 1990 and he was awarded the prestigious Ken Moo scholarship by the Northern Territory government in 1992. He established the first mobile eye unit in the Northern Territory, and he established a sustainable system of eye service provision in remote areas and delivered these services, which have now ceased.

He received numerous awards, including the Commanding Officer's Medal of the 6th Field Ambulance of the Australian Army in 1993 and the prestigious World Health Organisation Fellowship by the Department of Community Services and Health in 1993 and in 1996. His thesis proposal on diabetic retinopathy in Aboriginal communities was accepted with the academic merits of a PhD by the Menzies School of Health Research in 1997. In 1997, the Review of Eye Services, ordered by the federal minister for health and carried out by Professor Taylor of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists, recognised the successes of Dr Jaross's efforts in eye care within the Northern Territory and Aboriginal communities.

The tragedy of this story is that from 1996 onwards Dr Jaross was unable to practice ophthalmology in Australia. Dr Jaross was practising in an area where few ophthalmologists go, where there is a desperate need for trained ophthalmologists, and that was working in the remote communities of the Northern Territory in the area of eye health. Until recently this man, who was qualified enough to represent Australia overseas and also to train registrars to become ophthalmologists, was barred from practising ophthalmology in this country.

In January 1997, Dr Jaross was advised by the Health Insurance Commission that he was not entitled to access Medicare benefits. Therefore, he could not continue his work in the Northern Territory. Due to the fact that he did not hold any medical appointment as of December 1997, his registration as an overseas trained doctor with the medical board of the Northern Territory was terminated. Then we find that the Health Insurance Commission actually had sent a letter dated 23 December 1997 advising him that he was able to access Medicare benefits for 1997.

I have been familiar with the case of Dr Jaross for some time. It is not a case typical of most of the overseas trained doctors. I think we would recognise that most overseas trained doctors should be able to achieve or reach Australian standards. The differences in Dr Jaross's case are that he was originally invited by the Northern Territory Department of Health to actually practice in Australia, he practised in that capacity for 10 years, he actually trained registrars to become specialist ophthalmologists himself and, unfortunately, after doing all that work in the remote communities in the Northern Territory for that period of 10 years, it was found, once he no longer had his appointment at the Royal Darwin Hospital, his registration with the medical board had only been provisional on that appointment, so they were not prepared to register him. The Health Insurance Commission, as he had never been trained in Australia, were not prepared to give him Medicare benefits, and he was unable to get one without the other. So that was a cycle.

I am pleased to say that Dr Jaross has now found a position in a teaching hospital in Adelaide. Previously, he was going to be required by the college to all his training again—the pre-clinical training and clinical training. That, I believe, has now been waived. He will have to do his clinical training in ophthalmology again, but he does want to continue with his commitment to Aboriginal eye health. Unfortunately, he will have to complete this training in Adelaide and then return to the Northern Territory after that.

It is an important area. Unfortunately in Australia we still have a situation in Aboriginal communities where we still see the same sort of problems that you associate more with the developing world than with an affluent country like Australia.