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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1979

Mrs KELLY —I refer the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on Australia released yesterday. Is it a fact that the report-

Mr Sinclair —Get your hands out of your pockets and stand up straight.

Mrs KELLY —Is that all the right honourable member can say? Is that the best he can do? Is it a fact that the report emphasises the need for continued moderation in wages if Australia is to successfully achieve the formidable adjustment task imposed upon it by external factors? What implications do these findings have for incomes policy in Australia?

Mr WILLIS —The Government is very much aware of the OECD report and what it says about the adjustment process which this nation must undertake as a result of the external factors which have been operating against us. Of course, a key element of the successful implementation of that adjustment process, as the OECD makes clear, is for continued moderation in wages and other incomes. If that is not achieved, we will not be able to get inflation down, to retain our competitiveness, to get our foreign debt stabilised, to increase net exports, to reduce interest rates or to maintain substantial economic and employment growth. So this area is quite crucial. Today we have a meeting of the trade unions affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, a Federal unions conference, which is considering the unions' policy in respect of wages. I very much hope and expect that the matters I have been mentioning will be very much in the minds of delegates at that conference. I expect that the ACTU will come out in strong support of the present wage system as determined by the recent national wage case.

The words of the OECD report are relevant, not simply to wage and salary earners and trade unions, but also to other groups in the community, including professional groups, some of which seem to think that they are exempt from the economic circumstances which apply to the rest of the country. I refer particularly to a group of doctors in the Australian Capital Territory who are currently seeking an 87 1/2 per cent increase for their role as visiting medical officers in our public hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory. They want an increase in the total payments to them for the work they do as visiting medical officers from $4m to $7.5m. Since 155 doctors are involved, this means an average increase of $22,600 per annum, or $430 per week, for what is very much only a part-much less than half-of the total income and activities of those doctors.

Claims such as that not only are being made but also are being sought to be enforced by the operation of bans on elective surgery in the Australian Capital Territory at present. So it is not just something which is of theoretical difficulty; it is something which is being imposed with industrial action in the same way as other unions have sought to do. Doctors tend to see themselves as a substantial professional group, but when they impose bans on surgery in hospitals they must see themselves as no different from any trade union in this country and subject to the same sorts of strictures which apply to trade unions.

The doctors who are imposing these bans and making these claims have no justice on their side. From calendar year 1983 to the end of the financial year 1985-86 the average income of doctors, from fees and hospital payments in the Australian Capital Territory, increased by 21.8 per cent. Over the same period award wages increased by 16.3 per cent, average weekly earnings by 20.3 per cent and the income of Federal members of parliament by 12.9 per cent. Over the period for which we have information, doctors have been well ahead of members of parliament and wage and salary earners generally, yet they are seeking an increase of 87 1/2 per cent in respect of that part of the income they get as visiting medical officers. It is just not feasible for the Government to accept--

Mr Cadman —Come on, make a statement!

Mr WILLIS —I know that the Opposition supports the doctors in making claims such as this. The Opposition is utterly hypocritical in its attitude: It condemns trade unions, but it thinks that doctors can do anything. As I was saying, these doctors are seeking an increase of 87 1/2 per cent. They have been offered 21 per cent, which would give them a standard of remuneration in respect of their activities as VMOs which would be on a par with the rates operating in the States, yet they have rejected that. I point out that the average gross income of doctors from fees and hospital payments in 1985-86 was $152,000. It seems to me that a group with that kind of six-figure income is one of the last groups in the country which should be making a claim that is anything like the order of that that is being made, let alone pursuing it with bans in the current economic circumstances in which the nation finds itself.

This is a disgraceful attitude by those doctors. They should be utterly ashamed of themselves for pursuing those claims. The Opposition, by interjecting in support of the doctors, put itself in the same position as the doctors. It is utterly hypocritical in its attitude of condemning trade unions for actions they have taken which, in the main, have been utterly responsible over the past three years, yet supporting doctors in making claims which are utterly outrageous and cannot be supported by any fair-minded person.