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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2142

Senator CROWLEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. I note newspaper reports of the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to examine urgently the question of nurse education. Can the Minister say whether the establishment of this committee has satisfied the many nurse unions and groups which seek increased tertiary education places for the nursing diploma in 1985? Can the Minister say when the committee will be finalised, when it will have its first meeting, what its terms of reference are, and whether those deliberations will be available for consideration for this year's Budget?

Senator RYAN —I do not think that the various nurse representatives who are agitating for the total transfer of basic nurse training from hospitals to colleges will be satisfied by the announcement of the interdepartmental committee. However, I think that they are reassured that the Government is treating this matter with a great deal of care and thoroughness. The work of the IDC will enable our Government and all State governments, which are also clearly very involved in this, to get a clearer picture of all the issues involved in the transfer of basic nurse training from hospitals to colleges of advanced education.

There are many implications involved. There is the whole question of labour market needs for trained nurses. There is the question which State Ministers for Health have raised as to the capacity of the trained nurse work force to fill the places in hospitals that would be created if trainee nurses were taken out into colleges. There are cost implications for the CAEs in having considerable additional new courses. It is not simply a matter of setting up a few courses but of ensuring that there is a proper relationship between the theoretical courses in the colleges and the practical training in hospitals which must continue in some integrated way with the college basic training. There is a whole range of industrial issues, cost issues, and manpower-or should I say labour force-needs for nurses which have to be considered very carefully.

The representatives of various nurse organisations have themselves given a great deal of careful thought to these matters and have been very co-operative in the various discussions which I, the Federal Minister for Health, Neal Blewett, members of the Tertiary Education Commission, members of my Department and the Federal Department of Health have had with them. There has been ongoing discussion and consultation. However, the issue is one that has immense cost implications. It has immense administrative implications for State government health portfolios, the Federal Government health portfolio, and of course, the Federal Government education portfolio. The IDC will have a very complicated task on its hands to gather together all the relevant information so that all the governments involved, which means really all Australian governments, can approach this matter in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way. Once that position is arrived at I am sure that the representatives of nurse organisations will be satisfied.

The timetable raised in Senator Crowley's question is a short one. We hope that within the context of budgetary discussions we will be able to proceed to a much clearer picture of the needs, costs and so forth than we have at the moment. The timetable is a short one. The decisions reached will, of course, be a matter for governments to arrive at as soon as possible without short-cutting the various complicated issues involved. We wish to avoid arriving at a solution in the short term which will not meet the aspirations of nurses for an upgrading of their training. That is an aspiration which we share but which we consider must be reached in a very careful and proper way.