Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3737 ..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
How important are these sorts of negotiations? They are that important that after the first round they should not be done in less than three months. It is illogical of the minister to stand before us and say that on this side of the end of the year it is okay to go short and on the other side of the end of the year it is okay to go long. If things are to be negotiated correctly and properly to achieve a good health outcome for ordinary Canberrans, let's do the negotiations properly. The government stands by its own activity in this time and groups of ordinary Canberrans should not be penalised because the government did not get its act together.
Why was this bill only tabled in August? Why are we only debating it now? It is because the government did not do its work. I think that this clause gives too much power to the minister-in particular, given that these contracts, when they are negotiated, will be the model contracts for the next five, six, seven, eight or nine years, and if we get it wrong to start with we will be back here at some time in the future fixing up Mr Corbell's mess. It is his mess; he is the minister. It is a mess he inherited from the previous Health Minister, Mr Stanhope, who also did not pay enough attention to the health portfolio. He should have been doing this work before he handed over the portfolio to Mr Corbell.
Members, I would ask that you do not pass this amendment. That would then give me the opportunity to move amendment No 1 circulated in my name, which sets the standard period at three months unless the parties agree. It would be good if the government, VMOs, the AMA and other doctor groups could come together and agree on a short timeframe, because you would then have a great starting point for negotiations; you would have consensus on how long it would take.
If you pass the minister's amendment, you are saying that the minister has the whip hand. The minister, because of his own inactivity and the laziness of the government in not having this matter before us much earlier, will punish others who will not have time to organise their skills. Let's face it: if we pass this amendment and this bill becomes law next week, there will be about seven weeks in which a group of VMOs will have to get organised, get the 50 requisite signatures, find an agent to represent them, come to the government and say, "Here's a group of 50 VMOs that represent at least three of the following categories and we would like to start negotiating with you. What's the first offer?"
Who in his or her right mind would think that that is going to happen in six or seven weeks and happen properly, without all sorts of silly tactics going on? It is illogical in the extreme to insist that the contracts that set the way in which VMOs will operate in our hospital for the next four, five, six, seven, eight or nine years has to be done so quickly. If it has to be done that quickly, if it is so important that it has to be in place on 28 November, why wasn't it in place for May when the contracts first expired and were extended?
The minister must have known that the contracts would expire in May. Why didn't we see this bill in June so that we could have debated it in August? Why were we only seeing it in August? Why are we seeing it now for debate in September? I would ask members to reject the amendment and give me an opportunity to put the case for the amendment I have circulated in my name.