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Monday, 7 May 1984
Page: 1621

Senator COATES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the the Acting Minister for Health. Has he seen the Australian Medical Association pamphlet seeking contributions to the AMA freedom fund? Is the AMA both insulting many doctors and obtaining funds under false pretences, since most of the so-called freedoms listed are not under attack, even if one allows for the emotionally and politically worded tone of the appeal? How many of the freedoms are under threat? Does the AMA mention its opposition to medical practitioners informing patients of such matters as their fees and whether or not they bulk bill, which severely restricts the freedom of some of its members and of patients?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I have had drawn to my attention the appeal by the Australian Medical Association to doctors throughout Australia asking doctors each to pledge at least $200 immediately and to guarantee to pledge further funds later to enable the AMA to defend the freedoms that it sees as important in the health system against attacks by governments or anyone else that it sees is going to attack these freedoms. The sorts of freedom listed are: The free and unrestricted choice of the doctor by the patient and likewise of the patient by the doctor, so that both parties retain their individuality and sense of responsibility, and no barrier is separating the patient from free choice of specialist or doctor. I point out to the honourable senator that, under the existing health system, those freedoms are not under attack, except to the extent that medical practitioners, in particular those in public hospitals, are against patients' capacity, other than fee paying patients, to make their choice of doctors in those hospitals.

The AMA also suggests that under attack are the freedom of a doctor to choose the type and locality of his practice; the freedom and opportunity to practice on a fee for service basis without threat of coercion or compulsion-I defy any member of the medical profession to demonstrate where either of those freedoms is under attack; the freedom to preserve professional secrecy in the high standard of medical ethics; the freedom of doctors to treat their patients in hospital within the limits of their training, experience and demonstrated competence; and the freedom to prescribe what is best for the patient. Those freedoms are not under attack by this Government or the existing health insurance scheme. To suggest that the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association should be able to receive the sums of money suggested and to use them at its discretion for political purposes is, as Senator Coates says, an insult to the intelligence of the doctors and of the electorate of this country.

It is significant, as Senator Coates says, that among the freedoms not listed are the freedoms of a doctor to advertise just what he charges or the freedom of a doctor to advertise whether or not he bulk bills. The lack of this freedom inhibits the freedom of choice of many patients in this country to determine, before they are treated, what they will be charged and how they will be charged. That is an important freedom. Those members of the medical profession who are indulging in this activity should remember that freedom goes both ways-it applies to the patients as well as the doctors. I expect that these extravagant requests from the Federal Council of the AMA will not receive much support from most members of the medical profession.