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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr JAMES (Hunter) - The matter that 1 desire to raise in this Grievance debate today is, 1 consider, of considerable importance to the citizens of Newcastle and the hinterland. For too long the citizens of this important region of Australia have been shabbily treated by responsible Government authorities in not having a permanent Government medical officer appointed to carry out the responsibilities of the Government medical officer in that city. This is a State appointment. While I am on this point, I am reminded of some of the remarks of the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who has just resumed his seat. He used the phrase 'the States are starved for funds'. This becomes a matter worthy of being raised in the national Parliament because it could well be that the position existing in Newcastle regarding the permanent appointment of a Government medical officer has been brought about by the Commonwealth starving the States for funds. It is some 12 years since a permanent Government medical officer was appointed to that position in Newcastle following the retirement of the former permanent Government Medical Officer, Dr Eglund. He retired from that position on the grounds of ill health.

I knew the late Dr Englund well. He was a conscientious, dedicated Government medical officer whose whole attention was directed to the performance of the medical supervision for which he was appointed.

Since his retirement at least 4 medical practitioners have been appointed from time to time as acting Government medical officers in the City of Newcastle. These medicos have to perform the duties of Government medical officer as well as carry out their own private practice, lt is obvious to any reasonable man or anyone acquainted with the position in Newcastle that an acting Government medical officer cannot afford the necessary time to carry out thoroughly the duties of a Government medical officer or the duties of forensic medicine and meet the requirements of his own private practice. I am doubtful whether the same degree of enthusiasm would be shown to the work of a Government medical officer when those duties came into conflict with matters appertaining to his own private practice. I think it is commonsense that he would give preference to the obligations of his own private practice. I believe that the remuneration offered to Government medical officers or acting Government medical officers, as the case may be, is considerably lower than that which a doctor can earn in private practice. This is probably the reason why, for approximately 12 years since the retirement of Dr Englund, the position of permanent Government medical officer at Newcastle has not been filled. 1 believe the responsible health authorities have been treating the citizens of this important city, which is the industrial heart of the nation, in a mean, shabby and contemptible way. Some honourable members may think I am a little impatient in raising the matter when only a mere 12 years have elapsed since the appointment of a permanent Government medical officer to this important city. I believe that, because these people are predominantly working class, the health authorities have got away with gross neglect in the matter to which I am referring. One might well ask how long the citizens of Bellevue Hill, Point Piper, Rose Bay, Wahroonga and Toorak, which is just outside Melbourne, would put up with this type of shabby treatment. One might ask how the absence of a permanent Government medical officer affects the community. Is it serious to the community? I say it is. I particularly want to refer to the position of the next of kin of deceased persons whose near and dear ones die in circumstances where an autopsy is requested by the Coroner. Frequently in

Newcastle autopsies cannot be held for some 4 or 5 days probably because of the Government medical officer's lack of enthusiasm or because he is too busy with his own private practice. This causes prolonged mourning by tha widow, widower and near and dear ones and also causes extreme inconvenience to relatives who travel from distant parts of the State or interstate to attend the funeral. The funeral is held up because the autopsy is held up. The Coroner will not release the body to the undertaker until he receives the medical report of the autopsy. These things have been imposed on the people in my district for too long and should be immediately rectified. Relatives are left languishing in distress for long periods.

Furthermore, we have to think of our police investigating officers when a person dies in circumstances where poisoning is suspected. Many of us know that certain modern poisons, which can be used to dispose of someone whom one docs not like, disappear from the body in a very short period of time. This necessitates holding a postmortem as promptly as possible so that investigating officers can be apprised of the cause of death, and can pursue their line of inquiry as they would like to do once the cause of death is determined. We all have in mind the unfortunate Bogle case where the medical officers could not determine the cause of death. It was suspected that a poison known as '1080' could have been used. A very high class pathologist might have difficulty in tracing this poison in the body. The poinson '1080' is supposed to leave the body in a very short period of time. One can understand why in Newcastle there has been bungling with government medical officers, not always because of their incompetence. The recent acting Government Medical Officer, Dr Raschke, is a very outstanding and dedicated doctor but he has a lot of obligations with his own private practice. 1 do not think he was enthusiastic about taking over the duties of Government medical officer. The acting Government medical officer prior to Dr Raschke is under committal for trial at the moment for performing an illegal operation.

I believe that the job of government medical officer, which is so important to society, is not made attractive enough by the responsible Government department. I believe that as soon as possible a highly qualified medical practitioner, skilled and trained in forensic medicine, should be offered a salary attractive enough for him to dedicate himself to this position so that the citizens of Newcastle will be lifted to a higher grade and one worthy of the important part they play in the development and the economy of the nation. I sincerely hope that as a result of my bringing this matter forward in the debate today this very unsatisfactory position in Newcastle regarding the appointment of a permanent Government medical officer will be quickly rectified.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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