Doctors Welcome ACCC Governance (UHRIG) Inquiry – 17 November 2002

The announcement of a review of corporate governance of the ACCC is long overdue, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund, Mr Stephen Milgate, said today.

Mr Milgate said, current arrangements deny due process for those who are targeted by the ACCC unless they have the capacity to pay over hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Those who can’t, are forced to “cut a deal”. They have to make admissions that in other circumstances they would vigorously defend or go bankrupt.

“Interventions by the ACCC in to the medical profession have cost doctors millions of dollars in legal fees for technical breaches of the Trade Practices Act (TPA). All of these costs are eventually passed on to patients in the form of higher fees and costs.”

“The result of a recent ACCC intervention in Rockhampton into an alleged breach of the TPA by 3 Obstetricians resulted in the town being left with 1 private Obstetrician (ie created a monopoly).”

“The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars justifying to the ACCC its role as Australia’s leading surgical training College. All of these costs must be passed onto doctors in higher registration fees who then adjust their own pricing and eventually pass it on to patients.”

“The advice coming out of the ACCC on TPA matters is also disturbing.”

In March 2000 a Victorian doctor was advised by Mr Geoff Smedley, Assistant Director, Restrictive Trade Practices Unit, ACCC, “We [ACCC] have been advised that where a Government operates a public hospital treating public patients, it may not be carrying on a business.

However, the Wilkinson review (released in November 2002) into Part IV of the Trade Practices Act advised:

After looking at the range of evidence before it, and taking its own, legal advice, the committee has formed the view that a local hospital or health authority is effectively carrying on a business by running a public hospital, multipurpose centre or other care facility.

“Australia needs sensible business and trade practices regulation. Hopefully the UHRIG inquiry will take us there”, Mr Milgate said.