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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 994

Senator SIBRAA —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health been drawn to a report in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald in which the Opposition's spokesman on health, Mr Carlton, warned that the failure on the part of the Government to amend section 17 of the Health Insurance Act could see the current dispute with the doctors ending up in the High Court of Australia on the grounds that it contravenes section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution? Can the Minister indicate what would be the likely cost to the public purse of such a move? What would be the likely success of such a move?

Senator GRIMES —The last part of the question involved my giving a legal opinion. If the real lawyers in this place are not allowed to give legal opinions, bush lawyers like me should not either although, if Senator Withers is any guide, my opinions are likely to be as good as those of the rest of them. I saw the article in the Sydney Morning Herald in which Mr Carlton, apparently on behalf of the medical profession, threatened that the dispute over section 17 would end up in the High Court. I do not know on what basis he was speaking. One certainly has not heard that from the medical profession. The Minister for Health and the Government are determined to settle this dispute without any recourse to the High Court. We have set up the Penington Committee of Inquiry into Rights of Private Practice in Public Hospitals. The Minister has made concessions to the medical profession on many occasions so that this dispute can be settled. I do not know what the costs of such a disputation in the High Court would be, but judging from the cost of the Greek conspiracy case and others and given the fees sought by our leading Queen's Counsel, all I can say is heaven knows; the sky is probably the limit. However, whatever the cost and whatever the delays, the only people who would really suffer in the end would be the patients and particularly those patients who have no choice but to go to public hospitals. I hope the matter does not go to the High Court. I hope it is settled before then.