Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3736 ..
MS DUNDAS (4.45): The ACT Democrats will be supporting not only these amendments but also the other amendments to be moved by the government, because they will improve the original bill. There has been a lot of work done in a very short timeframe to try to improve the original bill. The first three amendments that we are debating are quite simple in nature and clarify that we are talking about an entity as opposed to a corporation, which, as has been said, the VMOs were looking for and are therefore worthy of support.
Amendments agreed to.
MR CORBELL (Minister for Health and Minister for Planning) (4.45): I move amendment No 4 circulated in my name [see schedule 1 at page 3760].
Mr Speaker, this amendment to clause 4 provides that a negotiating period which is determined by the minister after 31 December this year must not be shorter than three months, unless the partes to the negotiations agree to a shorter negotiating period. Again, this is a response by the government to concerns raised particularly by the AMA in this case but also by other doctor organisations and VMOs individually that the government may seek to create a very short negotiating period for any future agreement. They are concerned that they may face the prospect of being railroaded.
Whilst I do not think that that is a legitimate concern; nevertheless, it is an issue on which the government wants to reassure VMOs and the organisations and the government is proposing this amendment to provide that in any future negotiations there will be a minimum time for the negotiations to permit bargaining agents to deal with their members, seek advice from their members and be prepared to finalise a negotiation within a reasonable period.
Questions will probably be asked in this debate as to why the government is not proposing this period for the purposes of the current agreement, given that the current contracts expire on 28 November. The reason for that is that, first of all, there already has been an extension to the contract period and the government does not want to be in a position to see the contracts expanded over a lengthy period of time, given the work that is already under way.
The government will be in a position to provide both an offer and a draft contract to VMOs very shortly after the passage of this bill and that will allow negotiations to commence in a timely way. Given that the existing contracts will expire on 28 November, the provision of a three-month bargaining period in this instance could prolong the settlement of the negotiations and would not be in the best interests of the territory. Given that, Mr Speaker, I commend this amendment to members.
MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (4.48): Mr Speaker, the minister's speech was an indictment of his own inactivity. He said that the government does not want to see another extension occur. The question that really has to be asked is: why was there an extension from May to November in the first place? It was because the government did nothing about it. You have to ask yourself why we are here today, on 25 September, putting in place legislation that will govern how negotiations are to take place that, by the minister's own timeframe, he wants done by 28 November, two months away.