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MR CONNOLLY (3.45): Mr Speaker, the Labor Party rejects absolutely the abolition of salaried positions from the community health centres. We see that as an extraordinarily retrograde step. Had we had more time, I would have preferred not to have a motion that conditionally accepts the abolition of those salaried medical positions. That is not, and will never be, our position. The Chief Minister gave a highly equivocal answer in question time. She said, “We would like them to be bulk-billing and we are sure that they will be, at least for health care card holders and people who are able to throw themselves on the doctors’ mercy and have the doctors agree that they are unable to pay their bills”. That is one of the most demeaning experiences that anyone can have. If a doctor says, “I will bulk-bill if you can persuade me that you need it”, it throws a citizen on the mercy of the doctor.
We certainly are prepared to support a motion which locks in the principle that any private doctors in the community health centres must be 100 per cent bulk-billing, which is the intention of Mr Osborne's motion. We will not try to amend the motion to get rid of that conditional aspect of the wording, but it should be made very clear that Labor totally rejects any abolition of salaried medical practitioners.
MR MOORE (3.46): Mr Speaker, I rise to support Mr Osborne's motion. I found the question he asked today in question time very interesting and the Chief Minister's response to that question even more interesting. My understanding of the process that we were going through was that it was transferring to the Federal Government the costs that the ACT pays. I think it is appropriate to remind members that when the community health centres were set up it was done effectively as a Federal government expense under a Federal government controlled ACT. Under those circumstances it did not really matter which bucket of money the money was drawn from.
It seems to me, Mr Speaker, that people who wish to use community health centres should be able to do so without reaching into their pockets, and feel relaxed about doing that. That is how our community health centres have operated. It seems to me that, if we transfer to a bulk-billing system, exactly the same applies as far as the patients are concerned. The major difference, from our perspective, is that the Federal Government pays the bill instead of the ACT Government paying the bill. To me, that is a perfectly logical and rational way for us to go about sorting out this expenditure.
For those reasons, Mr Speaker, when Mrs Carnell answered the question today I felt that my understanding of what was happening was not accurate and I felt it important to clarify it. Mrs Carnell indicated to me that there is a problem associated with some of the doctors who may not be prepared to bulk-bill. I believe that under those circumstances, Mr Speaker, the doctors then have a choice. If they do not wish to bulk-bill, then they may prefer to open their own practice, perhaps close by. I would hope that that is not the case. I would hope that doctors would remain, or even perhaps remain half-time in the service and open their own private practice where they do not bulk-bill, so that other options are still available.