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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 274

Mr LEE —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. What progress has been made in discussions between the Federal Government, the New South Wales Government and the medical profession over the dispute affecting New South Wales public hospitals?

Mr HAWKE —I am indebted to the honourable member for Dobell for his question because I think it goes to a matter which is not only of very profound interest to the people of New South Wales but, I think, more generally around Australia. As you know, Mr Speaker, we have at the Federal Government level, in association with our colleagues in New South Wales, attempted to get an honourable and reasonable solution to this dispute. I make the point that our concern for the patients and the people of New South Wales is also allied with a concern about the reasonable levels of income of the members of the medical profession in New South Wales. It was never any part of the intention of this Government, in giving effect to the endorsement by the Australian people of the great scheme of Medicare, that members of the medical profession, particularly those conducting their practices in whole or in part within public hospitals, should be the ones who paid any price for the introduction of that scheme. It is in that sense that I have, in conjunction with Premier Wran, attempted to get a negotiation going with representatives of the medical profession.

I pay tribute to Dr Thompson and the Australian Medical Association for the responsible and, I think, courageous way in which they have gone about entering into negotiations with us. I am able to say that the negotiations which commenced with Dr Thompson and his colleagues yesterday were fruitful. The most useful way in which I could give the information to the House as to what has transpired and where we are is to read what is a relatively brief Press statement which will have been released by now, I think. The statement is in these terms:

The Premier, Mr Mulock, Dr Blewett and I met yesterday with the Federal President of the AMA, Dr Lindsay Thompson and other members of his negotiating team.

We gave an unequivocal guarantee that it is not the intention of our governments or the Australian Labor Party, to nationalise medical practice in Australia.

We recognise that it is vital to the continuation of high medical standards in Australia to promote and encourage private practice in public hospitals.

Yesterday's meeting identified a number of matters which are central to achieving this objective. Firm proposals on these matters will be put to Cabinet in two weeks time. Specific announcements on their implementation will follow.

They are-1. Arrangements to make private health insurance more affordable.

2. The automatic classification of privately insured person as private patients unless they make a positive decision to be public.

3. Reduction in the cost of being treated as a private patient, by requiring only a single $10 gap for all the medical services required during a hospital admission.4. The principle of community rating should be reinforced. The Commonwealth Government will take positive action to ensure that the cost of hospital insurance is fair for all Australians.

The above matters, which contribute to ensuring a suitable mix of public and private patients in public hospitals will be discussed with all State Governments and the Voluntary health Insurance Association of Australia during the next week.

The Governments have accepted the need for additional funding for teaching hospitals. We have asked the AMA to put forward specific proposals on the funding needs of the teaching hospitals. These proposals will also be considered as a matter of priority by Cabinet.

Detailed negotiations on methods or remuneration to doctors for the treatment of public patients are proceeding.

Discussions are also continuing on several other complex issues brought forward by the AMA.

The current negotiations are vital to a sensible settlement of this prolonged dispute which has caused severe hardship to the sick and injured. The negotiations will proceed while the NSW medical profession follows the AMA's call to make themselves available for normal duties.

All reasonable members of this House can see that those negotiations and discussions yesterday between our two governments and the Australian Medical Association were fruitful and productive. Indeed, they will be continued next week. While it may be a matter of some regret to some members, not all members, on the other side of the House that the people and patients of New South Wales are now in sight of having their proper system fully restored-they will be judged by that attitude-the overwhelming majority of the people of New South Wales and Australia will welcome the constructive approach of both the Australian Federal and New South Wales governments and the AMA.