ACT News

Canberra public hospital visiting medical doctor contracts to be determined by arbitration in April

Contract negotiations delayed again for visiting medical officers.
Contract negotiations delayed again for visiting medical officers. Photo: Nic Walker

Contract negotiations for visiting medical doctors have been delayed after months of disputes and accusations, with parties now scheduled for arbitration in early April.

There are as many as 220 specialist visiting medical officers in Canberra public hospitals with negotiations stalling due to disagreements about negotiation representatives and arbitrators.

Visiting medical officers have been used in various areas of speciality in the ACT from surgery, dermatology, dentistry and paediatrics to anaesthesia, urology and ophthalmology.

Scheduled meetings between the two sides have been cancelled since August with the government insisting the ACT Visiting Medical Officers Association recognise representatives before meeting.

VMOA president Dr Peter Hughes has routinely accused ACT Health of making unreasonable demands, cancelling meetings and assuming negotiation powers it does not have.

He also accused ACT Health director-general Nicole Feely of walking out on a recent meeting, leaving many matters undiscussed.


An ACT Health spokesman said the department remained confident a "fair and reasonable outcome" could be achieved through arbitration.

The spokesman said arbitration had not been postponed, but was subject to the availability of parties and arbitrator Greg Smith, a former deputy president of the Fair Work Commission.

"Greg Smith was appointed arbitrator by the minister for health after the parties could not agree on an arbitrator," Dr Hughes said.

"Because of the messed-up negotiations, the date for the arbitration hearings has been postponed from early February to early April."

When a negotiation meeting was cancelled in August, Ms Feely said the VMOA needed to declare it would not challenge the negotiation agents and allow them to commence in good faith.

According to ACT Health, a member of the VMOA negotiation team has previously questioned the validity of negotiating agents making the demand necessary.

Department officials have previously accused the association of being unwilling to take part in negotiations.

In September, the association refused to recognise Mr Smith as an approved arbitrator, despite being supported by the ACT Australian Medical Association.

Contract negotiations for visiting medical officers had been complicated in recent years with neither side able to agree with some terms and conditions.

"The first VMO contracts were drawn up in 1976 and they've been negotiated every three years since then, sometimes by agreement and sometimes through arbitration," Dr Hughes said.