Friday, 04 April 2014 00:00
Hansard 1 April 2014
Murray, Mr D
Dr FLEGG (Moggill—LNP) (9.46 pm): I want to use this occasion to express my sadness and appreciation for the life of one of my area’s most colourful—in fact, some may say outlandish— characters, Doug Murray, who was well known to most of us. Doug unfortunately passed away all too early on 12 March at the age of 63 after a short battle with a very aggressive cancer.
Doug will be remembered by most as the host of first Brisbane Extra and then Extra when it changed its name. His roots in journalism and in rural Queensland go back a long way. He went to Gatton College and studied agriculture in 1968. His activity as a journalist was right up to recent times, when he presented the weather on Channel 9 with Melissa Downes and Wally Lewis over the summer break this year. Originally Doug took a cadetship with the ABC, and he commenced that in 1973. During the 1980s he presented weather on the ABC, and he is of course very well remembered
for his founding role in the programs Countrywide and Landline on the ABC. In 1992 he made the shift from the ABC to Channel 9, where he ran continuously through Brisbane Extra and Extra until they faded away in 2009 when Doug retired.
Doug had what we referred to locally as a camel farm on Savages Road at Brookfield, the suburb where I live myself. I recall that Doug was a regular at the Brookfield Show Society. He turned up at the Brookfield Show one day in what I would describe as a cowboy outfit with big wide pants and one word down each side that said ‘Doug’s phats’ and there was always a hat. I have seen him in tartan beanies. He was known as ‘the man in the hat’ and of course always the pencil thin moustache.
We held a memorial service at Brookfield showgrounds for Doug. It was attended by some 800 people—many people from the Brisbane media and his friend and professional colleague Rick Burnett spoke glowingly of the man in the hat—the man who liked to drink, the man who liked to go to the races—
The man who was always bright and cheerful, the man people always wanted to be with and perhaps above all, the man who was always zany, colourful and out there.
Doug was known to ride a camel down to the Brookfield Store for a coffee in the morning. One thing about Doug is you always knew he was around. He will be sadly missed by all his friends, particularly those that are active in the Brookfield Show Society, such as registered nurse Vivienne.
I want to extend my sincere sympathies and those of Doug’s many friends in the Moggill and Brookfield area, to partner Jeannie, to his son Lance and also to his mother Pamela and siblings Deborah, Michael, Geoffrey, Lisa and David.
Friday, 04 April 2014 00:00
Hansard 3 April 2014
Dr FLEGG(Moggill—LNP) (5.40 pm): I rise to speak to the Hospital and Health Boards Amendment Bill 2014. Clearly, I am strongly supportive of this bill, and I want to point out that it displays and should be taken to display good faith on the part of the Newman government and the minister in dealing with the medical professional workforce. In some respects, it should be seen as an olive branch, indicating the willingness of the government and the minister to make concessions in an effort to limit any harm to our public hospital system that could potentially arise from the current dispute.
When legislation was introduced last year to pave the way for individual work contracts, some important dynamics changed. Previously, the power that a work directive overrides any inconsistent clause in the contract rested with the Public Service Commission. Incidental to the changes last year, this power was changed to rest with the director-general, which was a much closer place to the employees and created a lot of concern. That is being corrected in this bill and is part of the good faith being shown by the government.
A number of events that flowed consequentially from the much needed reforms that went through last year have progressively added to the concerns of SMOs. Changes to the IR Act stripped out some income that was previously paid under what perhaps infamously became known as option A. I have had many discussions with medical professionals about the current issues, and every one of them have unanimously said that they saw problems with the system but it was one that was imposed on them by the previous government and when they came to work they were told to tick option A or option B and that is all that was in it. It should be noted that the minister has gone a long way to making sure that their pay has not been disadvantaged by those changes. They have, in fact, been a victim of a broken system imposed on them by the previous government.
In essence, legislation came over the top that changed the pay and conditions. There is considerable concern among SMOs that standard contracts have been used. There were concerns about a lack of binding dispute resolution. There were concerns that there could have possibly been unilateral changes to rosters, to moves to other hospitals or to KPIs. These issues have been largely addressed by the government, and that is the message that the minister has been trying to put out there. There is a prevailing view from a lot of people that this is a poisonous legacy from the previous government—a broken pay system, a loss of trust that we saw with the Dr Patel issue and the payroll fiasco.
I want to declare some things at the outset. Firstly, I am a member of the AMAQ and have been for some years. Secondly, I have known Dr Steve Hambleton for many years. In fact, we were friendly rivals running medical centres long before I entered this place. In case it helps people on either side of the argument, I am more than happy to stand here in parliament and say that having known Steve for such a long time I have an enormous respect for him. He is a person of great intellect and great reasoning ability and logic. He is a person of the utmost goodwill. He is a person for whom the welfare of his patients and the constituency of his doctors in the AMA come first. He is not tarred with excessive ego. I encourage both the medical practitioners—who, along with their patients, have so much to lose if goodwill does not prevail—as well as the government to try to work constructively with somebody of Dr Hambleton’s ilk. I also to a much lesser extent am acquainted with Dr Nick Buckmaster, who heads the Queensland branch of the Salaried Medical Officers Federation, and similarly I believe that Nick is a person of goodwill.
I want to say clearly that we are getting towards the eleventh hour in this dispute before it will cause significant harm to the Queensland public hospital system. This is a great system which this state has been very proud of for a very long time. Having worked most of my adult life in low socioeconomic communities in Queensland—communities that had low levels of private insurance—I can say that it is a system that is of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Queenslanders. We cannot allow intransigent positions or inflammatory language to damage this system.
At the centre of this dispute, I think there has been a loss of trust, in amongst some language perhaps on both sides. But I do want to say that, as a backbencher whose main involvement to date has been rigorously representing the many medical practitioners in my electorate who have come to me as their local member, a simmering concern exists in Queensland among doctors—and I would say it is a legitimate concern—that the balance of power, influence and decision making between bureaucratic administrative staff and clinical staff is a very dangerous balance that needs to be preserved. None of us can forget the Bundaberg Hospital fiasco and the role of Leck and Keating.
A landmark report in Britain prepared by Robert Francis about the health services in Mid Staffordshire highlighted exactly how cost, convenience and bureaucratic decisions overruling clinical judgement kills people. I want to remind everybody in this House of one fabulous Queensland doctor—Dr Con Aroney, a hugely respected cardiologist who at one time, until he could no longer work under the Beattie Labor government, headed up a terrific public cardiac service at the Prince Charles Hospital. In order to contain costs in that service, bureaucrats decided that Dr Aroney’s unit could only use a certain number of cardiac catheters per week and they actually locked the rest of them away so that a well-meaning clinician seeking to save somebody’s life could not get them and blow the quota. That was a quota that cost quite a number of Queensland lives. People lost their lives, including I recall one of my own patients.
The very first time I ever spoke to Dr Aroney was when I rang him in his capacity at Prince Charles about my patient. That is when I learnt the information about how costs were contained by limiting the number of cardiac catheters the doctors could get their hands on. At that time, the waiting list at Prince Charles was nine months and one per cent of those on the waiting list died every month. That means almost 10 per cent of the people having an angiogram at the Prince Charles Hospital at that time died while they were waiting, and it included the patient whom I rang Dr Aroney about.
If honourable members get the impression that I am siding with doctors or that in some way I am siding against the government, they should think again. The sort of inflammatory language that we have seen from the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation interstate I believe has been very damaging and very unhelpful. I believe we could get a better outcome for everybody concerned in this state without what is, in essence, a union trying to insert provisions that strengthen its own industrial power. That is what I understand is happening at the present time.
Let’s be clear that we are at the edge of something that will damage clinical services, and I take the point from the member for Redcliffe—about the only point I would take from what has been said on the other side of the House—that training is one of the critical issues that needs to be considered and if a resolution is not found, it could be at risk. This damage could last for a very long time to come, particularly in those very difficult to supply specialist areas and in regional centres such as North Queensland. The sorts of areas that I would be concerned about and I think are of particular concern would be thoracic surgery; neurosurgery; hand surgery; ear, nose and throat surgery; intensive care and anaesthetics. I for one would be deeply saddened if we were to see the current dispute go along the lines of the pilots dispute, a famous dispute in this state in which people locked themselves into irreconcilable positions and the state of Queensland and the people of Queensland suffered greatly and for a prolonged period.
Let me also say as somebody who has worked as a hospital doctor but has also been an employer of doctors and had practices that heavily depended on public hospitals and the skill of public hospital staff that doctors are not lawyers: they do not like contracts; it is not where their talents and interests lie. The change to individual contracts is a significant change for many of them. As I have said—and I am sure the minister will confirm this—my role has been to advocate on behalf of individual constituents of mine. However, I do want to take this opportunity to encourage both sides to understand that there are difficult issues for both sides. If we want to get a good outcome we need to understand those issues that are difficult for the other side. I know there are still some outstanding matters, but I believe that they are matters for which resolution does exist. In fact, the government has met many—in fact, I will go further; the government has met most of the things that have been put forward. I believe on that basis there is a consensus that could be attained. I urge those whose job it is to find that consensus to act in good faith and with humility.
One of the sticking points for doctors has been the enormous steps that the government and the minister have taken—and they have gone well over halfway on any reasonable reading of the facts, but those concessions are contained in an addendum to the contract. I understand that in the minds of some and on the basis of some legal advice that has been given there is concern that the addendum is not as effective as if those provisions were to be contained within the contract itself. I have no doubt that, if that is put forward in good faith, the government would respond to it equally in good faith. There is no way in the world that I think something like that should become a sticking point that prevents a resolution. It may well be a case that the lawyers for both sides need to be locked in a room together and not allowed out until both sides can agree on getting the technicalities right.
I also understand that the union is now seeking to inject itself into future negotiations if there are future iterations of this ongoing contract or for individual variations of the contract as if it were a collective bargaining situation. This is something that would be hugely difficult for the government to accept, particularly so given that we have seen the behaviour of not just some of the unions in the medical dispute but also other unions in this state. Again, if it were put forward in good faith, in a reasonable way, particularly dealing with Queensland based representatives in a package, then I think the government would also respond in good faith as they have in other things.
The concessions that have been sought here have largely been delivered. So there should now be a basis on which people of good faith can get a solution. I think that what is standing in our way is, in fact, process. I am sure that if people of goodwill on the doctors side are prepared to put forward a single proposal—we have too many cooks here. We have people from various unions, from interstate, all of whom seek to move the goalposts. There is no possibility at the moment of the government being able to see clearly what would be acceptable to the reasonable doctors on the hospital floor under these sorts of circumstances. So we need a single set of negotiating positions. The difference is not great, but we cannot have the goalposts continually being moved. None of the matters that I have mentioned that I understand are on the table at present would be sticking points, I believe, in that setting.
Let me also say to my former professional colleagues that the idea of signing resignation forms as part of an industrial campaign and handing them—
Mr Rickuss: Undated.
Dr FLEGG:—yes, undated—is not an original tactic. Members may recall that it has actually been done before. Handing them to a bunch of union officials, who will never stand to lose their job, and allowing themselves to be used as an industrial pawn for unions who want to broker more power for themselves, I am sorry, but that is a dumb idea. It is an idea that will not help a satisfactory resolution to be achieved. In terms of process, I think we are very close to a point where a single set of goalposts put forward by reasonable people in good faith could mean that we do not see the damage to our public hospitals that I for one really fear because I know what the effect would be on the people of Queensland.
I know that people like Alex Scott and Tony Sara want to harm the government. They want to entrench union power. They want to build their own power. They want to justify their huge salaries. They will never be at risk of losing their jobs, but they do not have the interests of Queensland patients or Queensland doctors at heart. I encourage doctors to ensure that they allow people who care about the patients and who care about the wellbeing of the clinicians to be the ones who represent them. They should not fall into the trap that nurses and teachers have fallen into of allowing themselves to be used as industrial pawns that have little relevance to the professional standards of the profession that they proclaim to be a part of. Teachers and nurses have lost so much standing because of the way they have sold themselves out to industrial unions. I sincerely hope that doctors do not do that. I can understand their clinical concerns, but that is not a way that will advance either their patients’ or their own interests.
In summation, most of the concerns have been met. The pay issues have pretty much been taken off the table by the minister, and they are substantial concessions under the circumstances. The problem about the unilateral imbalance of power is being addressed in part in this bill that we are discussing—the ability to vary contracts unilaterally to the disadvantage of doctors. These things have largely been taken off the table. Let’s seek a resolution. I strongly believe that there is a resolution to be had if those process matters can be sorted out and if doctors can present with a single voice and one set of goalposts. They should not let unionists damage our hospitals by making it impossible to achieve a deal by continually moving the goalposts. Give the government a chance to settle this in good faith based on the good faith that has been shown by the debate we are having here today and the other concessions that the government has made.
Public health and public patients have been my entire life. I am a passionate supporter of the public hospital system. I understand the huge difficulties in running it, particularly when it has been so trashed over the years by the Labor Party, but I appeal to all concerned not to allow this system to be harmed. This is not something that should be for union power or political points. This is something that should be there for the lives of Queenslanders and it is awfully important.
I just want to make a couple of very brief comments about other comments that were made tonight. To my colleague from Gaven I would say with respect if I may—and it is certainly said with respect—that getting up and siding with the doctors is not the way. This needs to be resolved by mutual good faith, and taking sides will not resolve it.
To the member for Bundamba I would say that this matter now is one of good faith. It will not be solved by amendments or further legislation. This legislation we are debating is an act of good faith in itself.
Finally—and I think it is appropriate for me to say ‘finally’—my colleague Dr Chris Davis, who is a person of the utmost integrity, who has a real passion for the welfare of the public hospital system, for his patients and a healthy concern for his professional colleagues, has put himself out there to try to seek a resolution, and I think his efforts should be praised and acknowledged.
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