WA Doctors Not Guilty (ACCC injustice to WA Doctors) – 18 August 2003

“It might well be said that an injustice has been done to those respondents”
Justice Carr, ACCC v The Australian Medical Association Western Australia Branch Inc [2003] FCA 686 (9 July 2003)

The ACCC must be held accountable for its actions in targeting innocent doctors in WA following comments made by Justice Carr of the Federal Court that “it might well be said that an injustice has been done to those respondents” said Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund (ADF).

Mr Milgate said, “This is a test of the accountability of government agencies. The lack of due process in-built into the powers granted in legislation to the ACCC makes it virtually unaccountable for abuse of the law.”

The AMA(WA) and Mayne Nickless Ltd were targeted by the ACCC for alleged breaches of the Trade Practices Act whilst negotiating conditions for doctors working at Joondalup Hospital in WA. (The case against Mayne Nickless (the 2nd respondent) was eventually dismissed by Justice Carr).

Facing the prospect of paying up to a million dollars in legal defence costs, AMA(WA) believed it had no other viable option but to pay the demands of the ACCC and not defend the action (it agreed to pay $240K in fines, $25K in ACCC costs and two personal fines of $10K).

In questioning why the AMA had not fought the case, Justice Carr stated “the prospect of incurring legal costs possibly amounting to as much as a million dollars may have weighed heavily in that [the AMA’s] decision.”

Justice Carr also said in his concluding remarks that:

“After fourteen days of hearing and the consideration of some thousands of documents, it transpires that, had the matter gone to trial as against the AMA (WA) respondents, they would not have been found liable in respect of the alleged arrangement and understandings which were in common with those the subject of these reasons.”

“… it might well be said that an injustice has been done to those respondents.”

“Those in the ACCC responsible for bringing on this case must be held accountable. The ADF will continue to vigorously pursue demands for reform of the ACCC’s extensive powers. It is a law unto itself, hurting innocent people and running up millions of dollars in unnecessary legal bills”,
Dr Bruce Shepherd, Chairman of the ADF said.

Mr Stephen Milgate, said, “The ADF has written to the Treasurer, Peter Costello, asking him to make publicly available all correspondence between the ACCC and its legal advisors in relation to this case. The public needs to know why millions of dollars of taxpayers money is being wasted in needless and vexatious litigation by an oppressive bureaucracy against doctors who are simply trying to look after their patients.”