Doctors and lawyers in Fels’ firing line

PROFESSIONALS, in particular lawyers and doctors, are going to come under increasing scrutiny from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The ACCC has been given a $1.5 million grant in this year’s Federal Budget to fund a professions unit to crack down on uncompetitive practices within the professions.

ACCC chairman Allan Fels told a CPA Australia function that the considerable regulations aimed at protecting the public from incompetent doctors and lawyers also formed a competitive bar.

“From an economic point of view what happens is work is reserved for competent people, but that also creates a monopoly,” Professor Fels said.

“We have had concerns that the field of surgery has anti-competitive restrictions in it and we’ll be making a decision on that later.”

Professor Fels said one of the ACCC’s main concerns with the legal industry came from the use of professional privilege.

“There are two cases where the commission seeks legal documents from a company. The first is where a lawyer is believed to have been involved with the planning and executing of unlawful behaviour,” he said.

“The second is where the firm under investigation says it received legal advice that what it was doing was okay. When we want to see the documents supporting that claim legal professional privilege is applied.”

Australian Medical Association national executive committee member Rosanna Capolingua said the association had known about the ACCC’s focus for some time.

“I believe this focus is affecting rural doctors,” Dr Capolingua said.

“We used to have a visiting medical practitioner agreement in non-teaching hospitals and regional areas where the AMA used to represent doctors on payment issues.

“The ACCC said we weren’t allowed to do that and those rural doctors haven’t had a pay increase since 1997.”

Law Society of WA president Clare Thompson said the ACCC had already lodged proceedings against some WA lawyers and that those proceedings had been discontinued.

“The profession takes a different view on legal professional privilege to the ACCC. We believe it is the client’s privilege and not the lawyers,” she said.

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