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Thursday, 29 March 1984
Page: 873

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Will the Minister for Health discuss with the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and State Health Ministers the possibility of facilitating the entry into Australia of overseas specialist medical personnel where necessary to staff Australian public hospitals if doctors here carry out their threat of mass resignation and open defiance of the law covering the charging of scheduled fees and if Australian replacements for specialists cannot be found? If not, can the Minister assure the Senate and the Australian people that patients in public hospitals will not suffer unduly as a result of the threatened irresponsible behaviour of some self-interested members of the medical profession?

Senator GRIMES —I preface my answer by saying that what is needed in this dispute is a more rational approach, particularly by those medical specialists who are using publicly funded facilities and the skills they acquired at the taxpayers' expense. They should take a calmer approach.

Senator Jessop —Didn't you?

Senator GRIMES —I did too.

Senator Walters —You are not even using them. What a waste!

Senator GRIMES —It is good to hear that Senator Walters is back. She has been home and scratched the Rolls; now she comes back here and tries to annoy us and carry on. It is nice to hear her voice again. We need a rational approach, an approach which Dr Blewett has been trying to get from the medical profession. But the medical profession, as Senator Jones knows, will not at the moment accept any concessions; it just wants the right to charge what it likes in public hospitals which, as I say, are provided for it at taxpayers' expense.

I will refer Senator Jones's suggestion to Dr Blewett, but I doubt whether at this stage, or at any stage, this country will reach the point where such a solution to the problem is considered, although I remind honourabe senators opposite that that very solution was used in Saskatchewan, Canada, some years ago much to the disquiet of the medical practitioners in that province. What we need is recognition by some sections of the medical profession that they do have some social responsibility, that they cannot just dictate to the taxpayer how much they should receive without some consultation and without some sensible approach. I hope that the dispute will settle down. I will refer Senator Jones's suggestion to Dr Blewett, but certainly I do not think any member of the Government contemplates such action.