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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9305

Senator COONEY (6:06 PM) —I would like to speak about issues in and related to the third report of the Medical Training Review Panel. This report has to do with the training of our medical practitioners. The availability of medical practitioners is a continuing problem, particularly in rural areas. It is very difficult for rural centres to get doctors to go there and to provide services for the area, particularly where the town is small. In the case of my own state, places like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong are well served but, when you get out further, there are problems.

The most important thing that any training authority can teach the young people coming through, whether it be in the medical field or elsewhere, is ethics. Ethical conduct would get over a lot of the problems. There are, of course, problems at the moment with the way young doctors coming through are treated. Oftentimes these young doctors are exploited, in effect, by their having to work long hours without pay. To a large extent, they subsidise the medical services in this country; and that should be acknowledged.

There is also the issue of how these young doctors, as they come through the various medical schools, will make their way in the world, given the fact that the provider number system has changed, that they have to get into colleges to get the qualifications they need and that this is a chancy business to the extent that—and I think I am correct in this—there are a lot more doctors than places available, even though there is a lack of doctors particularly in the rural regions. There is also the issue of how many specialists are coming through. It is not only the lack of general practitioners in the country that is a problem but also the lack of specialists, whether physicians or surgeons. They are not as plentiful as is desirable for Australia.

The Medical Training Review Panel has an essential job to do. In the end, regulation is not what gets a profession or vocation going. What gets a vocation going is a strong set of ethical practices. If that was put into the centre of training, you would get people committed to going to the country and to going overseas to serve with such organisations as Medecins sans Frontiers. Nevertheless, there are a lot of places where young doctors should go and should want to go. The important thing for the Medical Training Review Panel is to make sure that they are able to do so and able to do so with deep seated ethics.

Question resolved in the affirmative.