Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 3498 ..
Health Amendment Bill 2003Debate resumed from 28 August 2003, on motion by Mr Wood:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (12.01): Mr Speaker, the opposition will support this bill. However, I suspect we should vote against it in spirit because what it seeks to do is hand too much power back to a minister and create a different system of arbitration for one group of people in our society, in this case visiting medical officers. I note that Mr Corbell has tabled some amendments, which we will discuss in the detail stage, that will I suspect go a long way to addressing some of the fears. But there still are parts of this bill that I think are unjust.
The purpose of the bill is to provide specific authorisation for the purposes of the Trade Practices Act. The bill is intended to enable the terms and conditions of engagement of visiting medical officers to be determined by collective negotiation. So this would seek to protect VMOs, and I think that is a reasonable thing to do. However, what we would call into question is the way in which it is done.
I note that the minister wrote to members yesterday afternoon outlining the five areas that he will be amending. Before we get to that, I think you have to question the government's intention and commitment to providing a world-class, a first-class, health system for the people of the ACT. They have let this matter drag on. It should have been resolved in May but has been extended for six months. Is it not curious that in that period of six months following the extension we get an amendment to the legislation that puts power into the hands of the minister to determine that "the arbitration must be conducted under the Commercial Arbitration Act 1986 and in accordance with principles and rules determined, in writing, by the Minister"? So the minister is going to negotiate and the minister is going to be in charge of the process. Hardly fair, Mr Speaker.
You do have to question the government's approach to and inaction on this, and it has been inaction. We have all known for a long time that the VMO contracts were coming up for re-negotiation and that in theory this should have been done by May. Contracts often take a little bit longer; we know there is a bit of argy-bargy and that is okay, but this work should be completed by 28 November. But here we are in August bringing in a bill that sets up the way in which those negotiations will be conducted.
To the best of my knowledge-and the minister can clarify this-I understand the VMOs still have not seen a contract. They cannot have seen a contract because we have not worked out how these contracts will be made. We have not done that because the minister currently does not have the power to set the rules. And that is what this is about-the Minister for Health wants the rules to determine how everybody gets to negotiate about their future and he has got the whip hand. This is about giving the minister the whip hand; it is not about fairness.
Indeed, Mr Corbell outlined in the letter he sent to members yesterday five areas of reform. I note that none of the five areas of reform talks about proposed new section 33G (3). I think 33G (3) is the sticking point. We currently have an act called the Commercial