Queensland’s Liberal National Party government is clearly divided over how to handle a long-running dispute with doctors over individual contracts.
And that’s just the ministers in the health portfolio.
Half of the state’s senior doctors gathered in Brisbane on Wednesday night as part of the so-called “pineapple group”.
After more than 1200 specialists voted unanimously to reject the government’s latest compromise on contracts, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg dropped any pretence of being diplomatic.
“Meetings like last night were never ever designed to get a solution,” he told parliament on Thursday morning.
“Everything was constructed around high emotion and in those situations it plays on the insecurities that people do have.”
The minister even accused a doctor of being a “union thug” for approaching Queensland Health’s Director-General Ian Maynard before he spoke to the gathering, which listened in silence for five minutes before shouting out questions on legislation.
By contrast, Assistant Health Minister Chris Davis was given a standing ovation.
Before he spoke, the doctors gave the former director of geriatric medicine at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital a minute’s silence to pay tribute to his step-daughter Jessica Lindley-Jones, who was killed in a weekend car crash in northern NSW.
Dr Davis opened his address by describing Jessica, a second year medical student at the University of New England, as one of his most “treasured political campaigners”, adding he wished he had the chance to talk with her about the doctors’ contract dispute.
“One should take extraordinary care when introducing organisational change that can affect thousands of employees and the untold numbers of patients who rely on them,” Dr Davis said.
“So tonight, I’m going to share advice I would give to Jess or any of her generation with a stake and an interest in the concerns that have brought us together tonight.
“I would tell her, that in my opinion, contracts should not proceed without transparent evidence of proposed efficacy and the due diligence.”
The doctors broke out into spontaneous applause.
“Sadly, I never got to have this conversation with Jess because I spent the weekend researching the information I have to share with you now,” Dr Davis said.
“But I do know that she wanted me to be here tonight to do that sharing.”
Dr Davis, who retains his portfolio despite earlier this month protesting in the LNP party room, told the doctors he had concerns about giving the health department boss more power to alter contracts.
“Fetter means to limit someone’s freedom to do what they want,” he said.
“Unfettered managers do not conjure up the win-win or synergy recommended in the book `Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.”
With the government hoping to force signatures on contracts by April 30, it appears the state’s senior specialists are more united, in their opposition, than the government is on selling the reform.
Half of Queensland’s senior medical doctors and a third of the state’s visiting specialists took part in the Wednesday night meeting to reject the government’s offer, the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation said.
They hadn’t voted to resign en masse, but it is understood that anaesthetists, transplant surgeons and neurosurgeons are planning to quit Queensland’s public hospital system, with senior doctors in Townsville and Cairns preparing a mass exodus.