The long-running dispute in Queensland over doctors’ contracts appears to be coming to an end. Not content with slashing around 15,000 public sector jobs, the Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) government, led by Campbell Newman, has pushed for individual work contracts for doctors that would put the welfare of patients at risk.
The proposed contracts would have allowed hospital management to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment without the consent of the doctors. The contracts would have also taken away the clinical autonomy of specialist doctors and instead handed important decision making to the profit-driven interests of hospital management.
So over the top were the Newman government’s threats to the conditions of doctors and public hospitals that even the normally conservative Australian Medical Association (AMA) participated in the dispute along with the Together Union and the Keep Our Doctors taskforce.
Instead of addressing the concerns of the doctors, the Newman government instead wasted tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars trying to silence the Together Union from criticising the contracts.
The dispute has already been running for 8 months and comes off the back of the Queensland nurses’ dispute. At the same time the government has introduced widespread cuts to Queensland Health.
This has left medical staff and the general public outraged at the decimation of the public health system. Doctors have said that if they allowed the proposed contracts to proceed then the quality of patient care at Queensland Health will be severely set back. Job security for doctors would also be significantly undermined.
In March, a meeting of 2000 doctors voted in favour of mass resignations should the proposed contracts proceed. Newman arrogantly dismissed the doctors’ threat and stated that his government would simply recruit doctors from interstate or overseas.
Newman’s comments only added fuel to the fire. Queensland already has difficulty finding and retaining specialist doctors, especially in rural hospitals. By dismissing the doctors’ concerns he only proved how out of touch his government is. The vast bulk of the general public support decent working conditions for doctors as it facilitates better patient care.
Polls show that the government’s cuts to the public service are extremely unpopular. A recent Reachtel poll showed that if an election was to be held tomorrow then the LNP government would lose. This speaks volumes about the unpopularity of a government that only two years ago was elected as the largest majority government in Queensland’s history!
While the threat of mass resignations has now dissipated due to amendments being made to the contracts, there is still major concern about the contracts and the state of Queensland’s health system. Combined with the Abbott government’s attacks on Medicare, the fight to maintain a decent and accessible public health system is more important than ever.
With both state and federal governments slashing the public sector, health sector unions and community groups need to come together to organise a fight back. Stop work actions alongside mass public rallies need to be organised to both defend and extend our public health system.
This is how our public health system was won in the past and this is how it will be expanded in the future.
By Simone Howard