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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 3566 ..

MR SPEAKER: Discussion on the matter of public importance has concluded.

Health Amendment Bill 2003

Debate resumed.

MS DUNDAS: (6.15) The ACT Democrats are happy to support a return to collective bargaining, to set the remuneration of working conditions of medical specialists working in our two public hospitals. However, valid concerns have been raised about the provisions of the bill before us, in its current form.

The drama back in 1998 surrounding renewal of specialist contracts certainly made for exciting television, but did not produce outcomes that best served the people of the ACT, either while patients were being flown interstate for treatment or once a highly inequitable set of contracts had been concluded-some containing inadequate output requirements.

I believe collective negotiation is the only way the ACT government can achieve remuneration outcomes which are transparent and fair to specialists, to ensure that VMOs are paid for the vital work they do in training registrars to become the next generation of specialists.

The VMO association has also raised valid concerns about the way the government has chosen to implement this collective bargaining. They are setting up a new arbitration system for a small group of workers-with some peculiar features. I understand the VMO association is concerned that the wording of the existing bill would give the government too much power in negotiations, because the government will be able to determine the principles and rules of arbitration.

In its place, the VMOs want a term saying that arbitration should be equitable. They want the arbitrator to be empowered to determine the rules governing the arbitration. I believe it is their preference to have the conditions determined by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, rather than having them determined by an arbitrator operating under a set of rules established by the government. I can see why that position has some merit.

The VMO association also wants a provision in the bill requiring conciliation before moving to arbitration. The VMOs evidently do not believe that the reference to mediation in the government's amendments is sufficient. The wording does not make conciliation mandatory, when it should be. These are reasonable amendments to request. I am currently looking at whether we can get those drafted. Hopefully, we will have more time to consider this debate and look at further amendments to try and get this right.

I also wish to record my concern that the government has left this legislation until near to the expiry of the current VMO contracts. I understand that about 40 per cent of the contracts are due to expire in November. It is difficult to see how new contracts could be negotiated in only two months when there are so many complex issues to resolve.

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