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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 728


Senator REID(5.24) —I wish to refer to the annual report of the Capital Territory Health Commission for the year 1983-84. Early in the report it refers to management changes which occurred during that financial year. Of course, since the time of this report the Commission has in fact been abolished and we now have some health authority or some other such body. I find it remarkable that the Government would proceed to abolish a health commission of this kind without first having thought through exactly what it would do in the area of health and then be forced to put in some temporary body in the meantime while it thinks it through. This community is entitled to question whether the Government has its priorities right and in fact knows what it is doing with health in the Australian Capital Territory by having allowed this to develop as it has.

The abandonment of the Capital Territory Health Commission seemed to come at a time when there were union difficulties. One wonders whether it was intended that we should feel that it was the Health Commission's fault entirely that it was abolished at that time. One really wonders whether the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) was taking as much interest in this area of his portfolio as he should have been. I would have thought that long before thinking that the only solution was to abolish the Health Commission he should have taken some interest in solving the dispute.

Disputes affected the administration of health care in the Australian Capital Territory during the financial year under question, and continue to be so. We are now faced with considerable waiting times for surgery in our hospitals-a situation which otherwise would not exist. We have problems with the care of the elderly in the Australian Capital Territory. We are spending considerable sums of money in the maintenance of health centres. It is not my purpose to suggest that more money ought to be spent on health in the Australian Capital Territory but I seriously question whether the money available is being spent to provide the best service when we see the number of elderly people waiting for nursing home care and other services. Honourable senators will find, when the information about the cost of health centres is really available, that they are extremely costly. There is information about patient attendances and there is information about the finances of the Capital Territory Health Commission. But actually to put them together and know what the real relationship is is difficult indeed.

The Alcohol and Drug Service has been referred to and is mentioned in the report. However, there are some people in the community who had been providing voluntary services who felt very disappointed indeed at the way the Health Commission set up the Service and in a sense cut out the volunteers. On can only hope that it will work in the way intended. But to remove the service which was being provided by other people seems rather a pity and I hope that we will not suffer as a result of that service no longer being available.

The report also refers to the construction of a detoxification unit at the Woden Valley Hospital and states that it was expected to be completed late in 1984. In fact it has been completed and I guess honourable senators will be very aware of the recent problems in getting the detoxification unit opened. I understand that it was to have opened today. That is yet one other thing in Canberra that has suffered from industrial disputes and problems, as did Ward 12B which was covered by the Mental Health Ordinance and which did not open for some considerable time as a result of union bans-something from which we suffer in many areas at present. I urge the Government, before the next report becomes available, to let the people of the Australian Capital Territory know what its policy is for the provision of health care, to let the people know exactly what sort of commission is to run health care in the Territory and what is to replace the present authority.

There are too many areas in Canberra which have been left with people acting in positions and where no real attention seems to have been given to the proper administration and management of facilities. I refer to the Canberra Development Board, the appointment of the Tourist Commissioner, the failure to appoint a Chief Magistrate, the previous one having resigned on 29 February 1984, and as yet no appointment of a Chief Justice to replace the present chief judge who retires on Friday of this week as some examples in Canberra where ministerial attention to detail is required. I hope we will not have to wait too much longer before we get answers to some of these questions, including in the very important area of health to which I have referred.